Reid, Pope convicted of racketeering

Pat Reid, who once wielded control over hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money, stood humbled in a DeKalb County courtroom Wednesday, removing her jewelry and leather jacket and placing her hands behind her back.

She avoided the watching eyes of her relatives in the gallery as her wrists were locked in handcuffs and she was guided out of the room.

A jury convicted Reid, the former DeKalb County Schools chief operating officer, of racketeering and theft in connection with a school construction scandal that brought down former Superintendent Crawford Lewis. Also convicted of racketeering Wednesday was Tony Pope, an architect who was Reid’s husband when the pair were conspiring.

“Ms. Reid and Mr. Pope, you are going into custody now,” DeKalb Superior Court Judge Cynthia Becker said.

Pope, since remarried, mouthed “I love you” to his current wife as he was led from the courtroom.

Lewis, once charged with racketeering and theft, had avoided trial by pleading guilty to the lesser offense of obstruction of the investigation. He then testified against Reid and Pope.

The decision Wednesday ended a tortuous case that took 3 1/2 years to get to trial. After several re-indictments, the death of an original defendant and a lengthy skirmish over Lewis’ legal representation, the case wound up before a jury that injected additional drama.

On Tuesday after lunch, the foreman sent a strongly-worded note to Judge Becker complaining about a connection a juror had with C.D. Moody, an unindicted co-conspirator who served as construction contractor on one of the DeKalb school projects. The juror had worked at a bank where Moody was serving on the board.

“We wanted to make you aware so we are not responsible for any negative consequences,” the foreman’s note said.

Judge Becker replaced the juror with an alternate, leaving the jury with six black women, three black men and three white women.

A few DeKalb parents informed of the conviction seemed underwhelmed.

“Crawford Lewis got off with nothing but a slap on the wrist and I’m disappointed with that,” said Rick Callihan, a Dunwoody resident with a child attending a district school. He was concerned about the eventual cost of “poor workmanship” in school construction due to the racketeering. Reid was accused of circumventing competitive bidding processes and steering contracts to her ex-husband and others.

“What’s the long-term exposure to this,” Callihan asked. “We could be on the hook for five, 10, 20 years from now.”

Kirste Young, a parent in south DeKalb, had similar concerns about misdirected money and the plea deal reached with Lewis. She expressed weariness over the whole case, and the time it took to get to trial. “People have just moved on,” she said. “We’re just suffering the consequences.”

Reid and Pope were convicted of racketeering for manipulating construction contracts so that Pope got at least $1.4 million more than he should have. Reid was hired to fix the district’s troubled construction program under the condition that her then-husband would get no new contracts with the school system. Pope was supposed to finish his work on the first phase of renovations at Columbia High School, then move on.

According to testimony, Reid continued to send Pope work by adding to his contract for Columbia and by helping a contractor win another project so he could use Pope as the architect behind the scenes.

Reid was found guilty of theft for using school district employees to make repairs on the county-issued Ford Explorer she planned to buy. She was acquitted of another theft charge alleging illegal purchase of the SUV for one third of its value.

Reid and Pope also were acquitted of a count of theft connected with billing the district $800 for a lawyer to represent Pope in a separate civil lawsuit. That suit, which is ongoing, was brought against the school system by a contractor Reid fired soon after becoming the district COO in 2005.

The jury dispute elicited a vigorous objection from the defense. Tony Axam, Reid’s lawyer, filed a motion that called the foreman’s decision to send the note to the judge “tyrannical.”

“The court did not know if the foreperson was delusional or dishonest. No inquiry into the note by the foreperson amounts to an abuse of discretion,” the motion said.

Georgette Prater, the juror with the connection to Moody, sent her own email to the judge. “The foreman said … he did not want to debate. He doesn’t debate personally and he doesn’t debate here. He also said yesterday he wanted to fight someone,” Prater told Becker. “The foreman said he doesn’t want to debate, especially with women.”

Jurors questioned after the verdict was announced told prosecutors and defense attorneys in the hallway that there were disagreements and spirited debates but they said it was never hostile or threatening.

Stacy Vigil, a wildlife biologist, said she was influenced by emails Pope had sent, in which he discussed his secret involvement in the school contract work.

“They were working together,” Vigil said of Reid and Pope.

“I feel like they got a fair trial,” she said.

Sentencing for Reid, Pope and Lewis is in two to four weeks. Reid faces as much as 30 years in prison. Pope could get as much as 20 years.

Lewis, like the others, faced decades in prison, but under the plea agreement was told he would be sentenced to a year of probation as a first offender. That means the conviction can eventually be erased from his record.

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