Fulton County

Review of Fulton Co. spending habits finds sheriff’s, DA’s offices ‘rated at a high-risk level’

FULTON COUNTY, Ga. — While the overall risk level for procurement and spending on purchases in the Fulton County Government was reported as low in a recent review, two county offices were determined to have a high-risk level.

According to a report published on April 4, the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office and the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office were both rated as having a “high-risk level” for their procurement activities.

However, the report specifies that the review itself was not an audit and was not seeking wrongdoing. Instead, the document was intended to provide “a sense of the county procurement system by interviewing key officials and a diverse sampling of departments/agencies based on suggestions of the Office of the County Auditor.”

The report was produced by North Carolina-based accounting firm Cherry Bekaert.

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As part of the review, Cherry Bekaert highlighted the following examples of high-risk activities that they described as “outside generally accepted practices” when it comes to procurement activities.

The first set of items used as examples relate to the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office’s use of an American Express Black Card for purchases via Black Card Memos.

By Black Card Memo, the report says the term refers to “the unlimited purchasing ability of holders of the American Express Black Card. A lack of review and approval mechanisms was evident, raising concerns about accountability and oversight in procurement processes using this alternative method.”

The Black Card Memo from Fulton County Sheriff Pat Labat was included in the report and reads:

“As the Sheriff of Fulton County, I am executing my authority as a Constitutional Officer to make the purchase as described in the enclosed AMS requisition. Please process accordingly.”

Additionally, the report said that based on interviews conducted during the review, “several procurements and related activities lack a control structure, procurement solicitation, justification, selection, or delivery acceptance criteria.”


The review found that vendor selections were made that were not consistent with “commonly accepted government procurement practices,” specifically changing from an incumbent vendor to another due to the “Sheriff overruling the committee’s recommendation” and awarding a vendor contract to a new vendor at a higher cost.

Other examples related to the sheriff’s office included use of a Black Card Memo to procure inmate tracking and monitoring services through a wristband system, and the purchase of a customized Sprinter Van.

“Based on interviews with multiple County stakeholders, the current Sheriff has significantly expanded the assumed purchasing authority over previous Sheriffs. During our review we were informed of several purchases that followed no process or where the recommendation of the evaluation/selection committee was overturned without justification or public statement,” the report says.

As previously reported by Channel 2 Action News, the wristbands in question used to track and monitor inmates were those produced by Talitrix.

Regarding the Sprinter Van, the report said the sheriff’s office purchased the van in 2021, but the vehicle itself was not received until 2023. However, “we were informed that the Sheriff’s Office did report to Finance that the van had been received and it was not until an audit was conducted that it was found to not be in the County’s possession,” the report said.

In the Fulton County DA’s Office, the report said the office had used prosecutorial discretion in purchasing decisions.

“We were informed that the use of prosecutorial discretion has sometimes moved past securing services such as expert witness testimony during the course of a trial, to items such as gun holsters for agents and office supplies and other items that likely could have been planned for and obtained through the Department of Purchasing,” the report reads.

The section continues, saying “there can be ongoing temptation to use special procurement authority to circumvent procurement procedures that may be viewed as burdensome for procurements that may not clearly fit within the original intent of the accepted special procurement authority. This trend is evidenced by the email from the District Attorney’s office found in the appendix of the original report.”

Additionally, the report said that some constitutional officers and other elected officials have special or unique business needs that “if not handled or accommodated within County procurement policies/processes can lead them to seek alternative procurement methods without established procurement policies and procedures or oversight and lacking in transparency.”

More generally, the report said there was reduced accountability over the purchasing tendencies of some constitutional offices and elected offices, adding to an increased risk of reputational damage for the county.

“This lack of accountability could damage the County’s reputation and erode public trust if perceived as mismanagement or inadequate oversight of public funds,” the report said.

To assist with improving risk levels, the report recommended reducing alternative procurement methods and increasing oversight to prevent the risk of financial mismanagement or misuse of funds.

Generally, the report found the county’s risk level to be low as far as procurement, though it noted that it appeared to have a lack of purchasing policies and procedures being followed while making purchases outside of the county’s procurement system.

“Overall, the County procurement function operates at a level higher than typical large governments based on our team’s first-hand experience working with public sector organizations nationally. While some individual functions or offices are rated at a high to medium risk level, the overall risk profile for County procurement is low,” the report reads, adding further on that “Risk to the County could be mitigated if constitutional officers and countywide elected officers utilize County procurement services.”

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