• Channel 2 investigates funneling of work by DeKalb CEO's top aide

    By: Jodie Fleischer

    Updated:

    DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. - A little more than a year after he accepted $3,500 in bribes to help a nightclub owner, zoning official Jeremy "Jerry" Clark began billing DeKalb County taxpayers as a consultant, a Channel 2 Action News investigation found.

     
    Records show between March and August of 2014, Clark submitted invoices totaling $24,500 for youth outreach services, skirting multiple DeKalb County policies and possibly state law.
     
    "It's either a crime was committed, which is what it smells like, or someone has played loose and easy with the regulations," said former DeKalb District Attorney Bob Wilson, who reviewed the situation at the request of Channel 2.
     
    But DeKalb County CEO Lee May says he won't request an investigation of this situation; the high-ranking official who facilitated it is May's Chief of Staff and long-time adviser Edmond Richardson.
                  
    The Contract:
     
    The first mention of the youth outreach contract in documents released to Channel 2 after an open records request was in an email on Feb. 14, 2014.
     
    The CEO's Chief of Staff, Edmond Richardson, who admits being friends with Clark, emailed the county's then-purchasing director and asks, "What's the status of Jeremy Clark's contract?" (sic)
     
    The reply was, "Will be going out for competition on next week."
     
    Channel 2 investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer asked the current purchasing director, Scott Callan, whether it's appropriate to refer to it as a specific person's contract before it's been bid.
     
    "Clearly not," replied Callan, who joined the county in April 2014.
     
    The contract did go out for bids in March, but the county ended up cancelling the entire process, saying Richardson didn't properly define the scope of work.
     
    Within days, Clark submitted his first invoice for $4000, using that cancelled bid number.
     
    "Clearly the focus was on that individual and getting that individual here, work," conceded Callan.
     
    There was never a signed contract.
     
    When an accounts payable coordinator directed Clark to get a purchase order number from his boss, Clark instead forwarded the email to CEO Chief of Staff Richardson asking, "what are we gonna do about this?"
     
    Clark got paid from March through August, and even threw in a back-dated February invoice, five months late, which Richardson also approved.

    A search of email records found no correspondence between Clark and his supposed boss in February or March. And in April, Richardson was told to ask the youth programs director "exactly what she needed the consultant to do."
     
    The Competition:
     
    When the request for bids went out, Austell businessman Lawrence King thought the youth outreach contract sounded like a great opportunity, but he could tell the county already had someone else in mind.
     
    "I wanted to hear them tell me what it was, and they couldn't do that," recalls King.
     
    He actually wrote an email back to the county saying it sounded like they had a "preferred provider" in mind, which the purchasing official denied.
     
    He was stunned, but not surprised when Channel 2 showed him the documents.
     
    "Disingenuous, dishonest, [it] didn't pass the smell test," said King, "It's totally unfair."
     
    He never knew what happened with the contract, or that just as Clark was coming up on the $25,000 limit he could bill without competition, the county bid the contract again, and again it was cancelled, this time by the new purchasing director, Callan.
     
    "After four months you would expect that a department would be able to answer a scope of work on a small contract?" Fleischer asked Callan.
     
    "Absolutely," he replied, especially if Clark had already been doing the job.
     
    The Conviction:
     
    Last September, DeKalb hired Clark as a county employee, also at Richardson's direction.
     
    Clark made an additional $16,000 before getting fired in January, when he became aware he was under federal investigation for bribery.
     
    Fleischer began taking a closer look at Clark's DeKalb connections after he pleaded guilty in February 2015.
     
    In November 2012, Channel 2 Action News had a camera at the Zoning Board of Appeals meeting to record the nightclub vote. Minutes later in an interview where Clark was questioned about it, he replied, "I just want to protect the integrity of this county."
     
    Clark is awaiting sentencing on his federal guilty plea, as is the nightclub owner who bribed him in exchange for his vote to grandfather in Lulu Billiards as a nightclub.
                  
    The Conflict:
     
    The DeKalb County ethics code strictly prohibits members of the governing authority, including appointees to county boards, from doing business with DeKalb County.
     
    Records show Clark was still serving as a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals during February and March of 2014; during that time he billed $6500 for his consulting.
     
    All of Clark's invoices, totaling $24,500, were paid out of the county's sanitation department budget, even though they were designated for youth outreach.
     
    Edmond Richardson refused repeated requests for an interview.
     
    In a written statement he said, "I regret and apologize for this matter.  If I would have known then, what I know now Jerry Clark never would have been hired."
     
    Richardson claims all laws and administrative policies were followed.
     
    In his original statement, Richardson said he hired Clark in April. But he changed it after we asked about Clark's invoices from February and March.
     
    Lee May also declined an interview request, but issued a statement saying, "I am very disappointed in how it was handled.  It might have been to the letter of all laws, but certainly not in the spirit in which I expect this government to be operated."
     
    May said he has no plans to investigate the situation.

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