More than three and a half years after they were first indicted, Tony Pope and Pat Reid now look to a jury to decide if they allegedly ran a criminal enterprise identified in a four-count indictment as the DeKalb County School District.
Prosecutors say Reid, DeKalb’s former schools construction chief, and Pope, an architect, manipulated contracts for school renovations to benefit themselves. Pope allegedly earned more than $1.4 million that he should not have received.
Jurors met for less than an hour Friday and will resume deliberations Monday.
Reid and Pope, former husband and wife, face decades in prison if convicted. Both testified that they did nothing illegal.
The racketeering and theft charges involve construction at Columbia High School and the McNair Elementary School Cluster, Reid’s purchase of a county-issued Ford Explorer for one-third its value, and billing the district $800 for an attorney to represent Pope when he gave a deposition in a still-pending lawsuit.
Prosecutors allege Reid sent work to her husband by presenting new work at Columbia as an extension of what he was already contracted to do and then Pope allegedly overcharged the district.
Prosecutors also contend Pope helped a contractor and another architect, both unindicted co-conspirators, adjust their proposals for the McNair renovations to win the contract.
Reid, in turn, manipulated scoring so C.D. Moody and architect Vernell Barnes would win the job, then use her husband as the behind-the-scenes architect, prosecutors said.
“It’s about a marriage manipulation and money,” said Assistant District Attorney Lawanda Hodges.
Reid defense attorney Tony Axam, using a toy school bus as a prop, described it differently. He said the case was the result of former school Superintendent Crawford Lewis throwing Reid “under the bus” to distract investigators who were looking into his purchase of a county car.
“Dr. Crawford Lewis is the master of his own fate,” Axam said. “You cannot believe what Crawford Lewis tells you.”
Lewis was initially charged with racketeering and theft, and, like Reid, was facing the possibility of 65 years in prison when he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor obstruction for interfering with the criminal investigation. In exchange for his testimony, Lewis is to be sentenced later to 12 months probation and will get no jail time.
Axam donned blue goggles to stress his plea to jurors to look at the case from a different perspective than the one presented by the district attorney’s office.
“There is no crime,” he said. “She did what she thought was best for the school district.”
Pope defense attorney J. Tom Morgan also attacked Lewis’ credibility.
“Dr. Lewis was indicted, but just before the trial he enters a plea,” Morgan said. “The prosecution comes to the right conclusion (that) Dr. Lewis is not guilty of a crime because a crime was never committed. … If that man’s not guilty, then these two aren’t guilty.”
According to testimony, DeKalb’s construction program was a mess when Reid was hired for $109,000 a year to fix it. At the time, she was vice president of the firm owned by her husband, who had been doing work for DeKalb schools since 1994. One condition of her employment, however, was that he could finish his already-contracted work at Columbia High School but would get no more district contracts while his wife was DeKalb schools’ chief operating officer.
Reid started making changes that helped her husband within weeks of taking the job in October 2005.
According to testimony, she changed the scope of the McNair renovation project so that it would be rebid in a way that Moody, using information Pope got from his wife, would win the contract for just under $12 million. Vernell Barnes, one of the unindicted co-conspirators, was the “architect of record,” even though Pope was actually doing the work and getting most of the architectural fees, witnesses said.
“If he didn’t intend to deceive, why wouldn’t he be the architect of record?” Hodges said. “Vernell was a decoy. Vernell got pimped out.”
On the Columbia project, Reid won school board approval for new work by casting it as addendums to the contract Pope already had, witnesses testified.
Pope was accused of overbilling the district by more than $170,000 for Columbia High School, but his lawyers said that was nothing more than a math error that no one caught.
“A mistake is not a theft,” Morgan said. “Tony Pope did not steal anything from the DeKalb County School System.”