Dozens of prospective jurors were interviewed Monday as the complicated racketeering trial of a DeKalb school administrator, accused of illegally steering business to her now ex-husband, got underway.
Pat Reid, formerly the DeKalb County school districts chief operating officer, and architect Tony Pope, whose firm was A. Vincent Pope and Associates, were married when the alleged crimes took place. They have both been charged with racketeering and theft.
The two were indicted in May 2010 after a years-long public investigation.
Reid and Pope are accused of manipulating the system so that millions of dollars earmarked for constructions projects at Columbia High School and McNair Cluster Elementary School would go to Pope’s business, businesses affiliated with Pope’s architectural firm or Reid’s friends. Pope was not supposed to be awarded contracts because his wife’s position.
Former school superintendent Crawford Lewis was also accused of racketeering and theft because he allegedly allowed Reid to work the system so that her husband and friends got the contracts. Those charges against Lewis were dropped two weeks ago when he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor obstruction for trying to get the district attorney to slow down the case.
Instead of facing up to 65 years in prison if convicted, Lewis now risks no more than 12 months in jail. He will not be sentenced until he has testified against his former COO and Pope.
A large number of jurors was called because of pre-trial publicity and because of the time the trial is expected to last, at least four weeks.
The questioning of prospective jurors provided a light moment in the otherwise grueling process of jury selection.
Asked if any of them had a “strong opinion of public employees and their behavior,” half of the 45 prospective jurors seated in the courtroom removed and held up their juror numbers in unison, prompting laughter.
But the ethics of public officials was an issue for some prospective jurors during their individual questioning.
“I believe a public official should represent the community and … should be held to a higher standard,” juror No. 23, an accountant, said.
Prosecutors say Reid also personally benefited from her job when she bought a take-home car issued to her from the county at one-third its value. Prosecutors will argue she also demanded that vendors give her thousands of dollars in tickets to shows and sporting events.