COBB COUNTY, Ga. — Your children’s safety should be a top priority at school.
In one of Georgia’s largest school districts, parents are outraged because technology meant to keep kids safe has a connection to a criminal kick-back investigation in Florida.
Channel 2 Cobb County Bureau Chief Chris Jose dug into the company’s business here in metro Atlanta.
Channel 2 Action News uncovered records that show there’s a link between the Cobb County School District and a criminal indictment in Florida involving a sweetheart deal.
A bill of indictment against Anthony “Tony” Hunter details a South Florida scandal with ties to Cobb County.
Hunter is the former chief information officer for Broward County Public Schools, charged with unlawful compensation and bid tampering.
“It’s very disturbing to me because we’re already concerned by the lack of communication and transparency,” parent Stacy Efrat said.
Florida’s attorney general said Hunter was indicted for bypassing the bidding process for school equipment and steering business to a friend.
That friend is David Allen of Cobb County.
Before Allen died from COVID-19 last month, documents from the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office show he started up three companies that the Cobb County School District has awarded millions to for services.
“We’re committed to following how money is being spent. No matter how it came into the budget,” said Heather Tolley-Bauer, a parent who helped form a watchdog group called Watching the Funds Cobb.
She and other parents, including Efrat, told Jose they are concerned by what Florida investigators described as “back-door dealings” that allegedly involved Hunter and Kennesaw-based Education Consultants, or EDCO.
“It’s just very unsettling,” Efrat said.
From 2015 to 2019, the attorney general in Florida said Hunter arranged for more than $17 million worth of sales to EDCO.
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In exchange, investigators said Allen sold Hunter a lakefront house in Acworth for $400,000. According to property records, that’s $150,000 below market value.
The Florida investigation also revealed that Allen hired Hunter’s son at Alertpoint, which is a separate business that he owned. Hunter became vice president after he left Broward County in 2019.
On top of that, Florida prosecutors said Hunter used a Georgia car dealership to indirectly buy two luxury cars: a Lincoln Navigator and a Lincoln MKX.
Jose went to Hunter’s house on Tuesday, but nobody came to the door when he knocked.
Jose called Hunter’s attorney, who said Hunter will be exonerated in the Florida case.
He also said Hunter no longer works at Alertpoint.
If Alertpoint sounds familiar, that’s because Channel 2 reported on the company’s crisis management system in Cobb County schools.
This month, we heard from concerned parents following what the district described as a “temporary systemwide malfunction” that forced a “code red” lockdown.
“We heard this really odd alarm. And we heard this robot voice,” student Reid Bauer said.
When it happened, some teachers told Jose they were unfamiliar with the system because they haven’t been trained.
Last week, Jose reported on Protek Life. The company is not involved in the Florida case. Parents questioned the district’s $12 million purchase of COVID-19 safety products, including UV lights for elementary schools.
“It seems like a complete waste of money,” Efrat said.
For context, Jose asked Georgia Tech biomedical engineering professor Dr. Philip Santangelo to weigh in.
“In your opinion, is this a good investment?” Jose asked Santangelo.
“Only if there’s data to support it. If there isn’t data to support their claims, I would be very skeptical of that,” Santangelo said.
Protek Life is the company the school district hired.
When no one responded to his phone calls, Jose walked inside Protek Life’s corporate building in Kennesaw.
The office suite was locked, and nobody was inside.
“You need to be responsible with taxpayer dollars. You need to be following the science,” Efrat said.
Records Channel 2 Action News pulled from the Secretary of State’s Office show Allen was either the CEO, CFO or registered agent for Alertpoint and EDCO before he died. In August 2020, he removed himself from Protek Life.
Cobb County did not contract with the business until December. Dr. Jaha Howard is one of two board members who voted no.
“We want to use data to make decisions. In December, I had been asking for the data that shows it’s effective and safe for our kids and had not received any as of December — and even as of today,” Howard said.
News of the criminal investigation in Florida prompted Channel 2 Action News to make an open-records request with Cobb County Schools to learn more.
Documents show the district opened the bidding for a UV light sanitizing system for two and a half weeks last November even though the district was closed for a week because of the Thanksgiving holiday.
The minimum specifications of the county’s request prompted competing companies to question safety.
One vendor said, “We have concerns about installing a toxic system around kids.”
“It’s not good practice to not include constituents and stakeholders into these conversations,” Tolley-Bauer said.
In a statement on Tuesday, a Cobb County School District spokesperson wrote:
“We cannot control what happens in other districts. Transparency, accountability, and the law are at the heart of our procurement processes. They are the reasons why our procurement department has won best-in-class awards for the last decade.
“Although demonstrations are not always a part of the bid process, the District routinely conducts proof of concepts at select schools to make sure a program is best for students and staff. Despite libelous rumors spread on social media, the Superintendent and Board have no impact on the procurement process.”
Hunter’s attorney told Jose that the Florida case is currently in discovery, which is the time period where attorneys request the evidence and review it.
Hunter pleaded not guilty to the charges and is currently out on a $50,000 bond.
Cox Media Group