Fulton County facing potential $10 million lawsuit over alleged wrongful termination of whistle blowers

September 19, 2010 19:58 pm

by Pete Randall · 15 comments

This weekend comes word of a potential lawsuit in the offing against Fulton County, brought by former Deputy County manager Gwendolyn Warren and former Investigative Officer Maria Colon of the now shuttered Fulton County Office of Professional Standards.

It seems that Warren and Colon, through their attorney, Lee Parks, have compiled evidence showing they were investigating Nicola Hosier, Financial Systems Supervisor for the Fulton County Health and Human Services Agency, for allegedly using County funds to purchase over $150,000 of supplies for her private event planning company, Exquisite Events Atlanta. This company is co-owned by Fulton County employees Livia Shephard, Procurement Specialist, Office of Emergency and Transitional Housing; Cheryl Estes, Program Manager, HHS; and Yolanda Samples, WIA Coordinator, Office of Emergency and Transitional Housing.

[LETTER FROM PARKS TO FULTON COUNTY COMMISSION]

But the allegations do not end there. As Parks notes in his correspondence:

Moreover, Colon’s investigation revealed that Juanita Jones, the rental coordinator for the County-owned HJC Howden Center, operates her own private events firm, Events by Juanita, and advertises the four Fulton County Multipurpose Centers (Bowden, Darnell, Mill, and Benson) as venues for rent through her company. We believe the evidence will show that Jones has been allowed by certain [Fulton County] Commissioners to rent out these facilities for her personal business, without paying the County for use of the facilities. The Exquisite website lists Events by Juanita as a “partner.”

Further, Parks alleges he has evidence allegedly showing Shephard used her position as a purchasing agent for Fulton County to generate allegedly false invoices for shelter supplies in order to account for funds being used for luxury items purchased by Exquisite Events Atlanta, and that Hosier used County-purchased Wal-Mart gift cards to allegedly obtain an additional $14,351.64 in personal items and supplies for the aforementioned private company.

But here is where it really gets interesting and where significant allegations are being levied against certain members of the Fulton County Commission.

Early this summer, Parks alleges in his September 17 correspondence to all members of the Fulton County Commission and County Manager Zachary Williams, Colon and Warren updated Williams regarding their investigation and the allegedly significant and disturbing results being uncovered. At that time, as Parks writes:

Williams expressed concern over Exquisite co-owner Cheryl Estes’ close ties to Commissioner Boxill, with whom Ms. Estes was planning to travel to South America for a conference. Williams instructed that Warren and Colon “not put anything in writing,” and stop further inquiry until after the November 2010 elections, because, in Williams’ words, “it could get too political.”

On July 5, 2010, Warren met with Colon to discuss the continuing investigation, which had, at that point, begun to point to fraud even more massive than the over $150,000 already uncovered. Warren decided that they “could not sit on this any longer,” and directed Colon to prepare a final investigative report and transmittal letter to the District Attorney’s Office for prosecution. Warren then informed Williams of her decision.

Two days later, July 7, 2010, at the Board of Commissioners meeting, after meeting with Williams, Commissioner [William] Edwards placed onto the agenda the last-minute item, “What is the role of the Office of Professional Standards?” (See Exhibit D). The purpose of this “agenda item” was to begin to place onto the public record negative comments about something certain Commissions wanted to eliminate. However, in an Executive Session regarding “personnel” called by Commissioner [Emma] Darnell, we believe certain Commissioners advised Williams that taking a public stand against the county’s whistleblower agency would “not look good,” and asked him to “handle the problem” himself. Williams agreed, and the “role of the Office of Professional Standards” item was placed on “hold” until the July 21, 2010 meeting.

That very evening, following the Commission meeting, Williams informed Warren that she would be terminated, effective immediately. Williams admitted to Warren that “certain Commissioners want you gone today,” primarily due to the investigations of OPS. Williams told Warren that he tried to persuade the commissions to allow him to handle her termination in the manner that executive terminations are usually handled–by providing her a transition period; however, according to Williams “they refused to listen.”

The very next day, Colon was allegedly told by Williams that the Office of Professional Standards was being shut down and that she could accept a demotion or be terminated. On July 20, 2010, the day before the July 21 County Commission meeting, Williams formally shut down the Office of Professional Standards.

Since then, the investigations into Fulton County employees detailed above (and others that had been simultaneously ongoing which allegedly also involved certain Commissioners and which are detailed in the 100+ pages of evidence put together by Parks) have been dormant. We have those pages of documentation and evidence and are in the process of uploading them for review within the next day.

The clear, and I must stress this again – alleged, causal nexus at work is that once the investigations began into employees/friends of certain Fulton County Commissioners, strong and immediate action was taken to terminate those doing the investigating and eradicate the systems and tools by which further investigation could be accomplished.

At this point, all Parks has submitted is a demand letter for his clients seeking $10 million. The more important question is what action in the short term is District Attorney Paul Howard going to take to further investigate the allegations against these employees, their private businesses, and the involvement/interference of the overlords on the Fulton County Commission.

More on this to come.

Jane September 19, 2010 at 8:38 pm

I thought the Fulton COunty Chairman’s race was going to be boring status quo race, I guess I was wrong. The challengers needed an issue, now they have one. Throw the bums out and bring in new leadership. Where is Karen Handel when you need her?

Goldwater Conservative September 19, 2010 at 8:44 pm

Karen Handel? You just said to throw the bums out.

Lady Thinker September 21, 2010 at 6:25 am

Karen is very ethical, these bums are not.

parker404 September 19, 2010 at 9:28 pm

If only Mary Norwood had made it to qualify on time.

Jane September 19, 2010 at 10:42 pm

She was hard right for a liberal county like Fulton, but a moderate compared to the rest of the state. I doubt we can get a Ron Paul in Fulton, so she is as good as that county would ever elect.

Baker September 19, 2010 at 11:45 pm

Woo-hoo! I’m trying to guard against a serious case of schadenfreude, but it is pretty difficult. Politicians willing to blatantly inflame race issues in the quest for power get their come-uppance. For those questioning me, look up “Fulton County Commission dogs and hoses 2006″. Or you could tune in to the public access and watch one Commission meeting. It’s sick and pitiful. And lest you think I’m just bitter and a Milton pusher, I can assure you I think Milton County is a terrible idea and would hate to see that pass.

Jessica J September 20, 2010 at 8:38 am

Did I miss something in the story. I didn’t see anywhere race was a part of the story. I really don’t care what color they are, there needs to be an investigation and the guilty parties thrown out of office and off the payroll.

Lady Thinker September 20, 2010 at 9:55 pm

Agree.

Baker September 20, 2010 at 9:26 am

No, you didn’t miss anything. I’m speaking to the past behaviour of that particular commission and due to that history I will feel no sorrow if they are pushed out.

Scott65 September 20, 2010 at 1:54 pm

This is disgusting. For years I have wondered how the Emma Darnells of the world remain as elected officials. I think the State Legislature needs to take action and revamp the whole county government system structure in Fulton. These commissioners act like the county treasury is theirs for personal use (a treasury that is vastly shrunken now that most of the county is incorporated). I dont care black or white…scum like this knows no boundaries of color or gender.

polisavvy September 20, 2010 at 1:57 pm

Amen, Scott65. Cases like this also make me think that term limits needs to begin happening on all levels — city, county, state, and federal. It seems as though the longer someone remains in the same elected position, the more likely that corruption eventually raises its ugly head.

Lady Thinker September 20, 2010 at 9:56 pm

“These commissioners act like the county treasury is theirs for personal use.”

Take that to a federal level and one can see the same spending behavior in Congress.

Scott65 September 20, 2010 at 11:50 pm

I think this is a whole lot worse (if its all true…). Its right here in front of us, and they obviously think they can just make it go away.

Scott65 September 20, 2010 at 11:54 pm

Also…Congress spends money that you might not agree with how its spent, but its legally spent. This is just going into someones bank account, and denying agencies in the county that are grossly under funded as is…they should go to jail

Lady Thinker September 21, 2010 at 6:24 am

I agree, they should go to jail but some posters seem to want to make this a race issue and avoid talking about the criminal implications. I say we need to call in the FBI to do an unbiased investigation and let the chips fall where they may.

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