On the same day former school district Superintendent Crawford Lewis, his former construction and two others pleaded not guilty to charges in a construction corruption case, one of the defendants asked to have the trial moved out of the county.
Lewis, former Chief Operating Officer Pat Reid, her ex-husband Tony Pope and Reid’s former secretary Cointa Moody pleaded in DeKalb County Superior Court Aug. 13. Attorneys for Reid and Lewis asked Judge Cynthia Becker to drop a series of charges. Reid’s attorney, B.J. Bernstein, requested to change the trial venue due to wide media coverage of the state’s investigation into the defendants.
She also asked to move the trial because she said any DeKalb County taxpaying juror has a direct connection to the defendants because the case involves millions of taxpayer dollars.
“The media coverage here has been fairly intense,” she said.
Bernstein also claimed “very vicious” comments throughout the blogosphere may have contributed to a poisoned opinion of the defendants, but prosecutors argued not all of the coverage has been focused on Reid and none of it has been overly inflammatory and unlikely to affect jurors. Moving the trial would also significantly increase trial costs, prosecutors said.
A grand jury indicted all four in May on racketeering charges claiming Reid–with the help of Lewis and Moody–slipped school construction contracts to Pope’s architecture firm or companies through which he subcontracted. Lewis, Reid and Moody accepted several forms of graft, including money, tickets to top sporting events such as the Masters golf tournament and other perks.
Reid not only broke laws, Special Assistant Attorney General John Floyd said–part of her job was to make sure others didn’t as well.
“She isn’t just subject to them,” he said. “She was the guardian.”
Bernstein asked Becker to drop several of the racketeering charges because she said the indictment did not show Reid broke any laws–only school board policies. A grand jury isn’t equipped with the sophistication to accurately judge such a complicated and detailed investigation, she said.
“It’s always coming back to board policies,” she said. “They make an implication that violation of a board policy rises to the level of R.I.C.O. violation.”
Bernstein also argued that the four defendants were merely co-workers – or “associates” – not an organized criminal conspiracy.
Lewis, who was terminated by the school board in April after a 33-year career with the school district, faces several charges: four racketeering counts, theft by a government employee and bribery. Reid faces seven charges: four racketeering counts, theft by a government employee, bribery and falsifying public documents.
Pope, an architect who worked for the school system, was charged with four counts of racketeering, and Moody was also charged with four counts of racketeering and theft by a government employee.
The scheme focused on a grouping of construction projects: Columbia High School, Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy, Arabia Mountain High School and the Mountain Industrial Center in Stone Mountain, where the district has relocated its administrative offices.
Becker said rulings on the charges could be expected within a week.