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Three sentenced to prison in DeKalb Schools corruption case

12/13/2013, 6 a.m.
Former superintendent Crawford Lewis (left), former COO Pat Reid and architect Tony Pope at their sentencing hearing Dec. 9 in DeKalb Superior Court.

All three defendants in the DeKalb County Schools corruption case have been sentenced to serve time in jail.

On Dec. 9, DeKalb Superior Court Judge Cynthia Becker sentenced former Chief Operating Officer Patricia Reid to 15 years in prison and her ex-husband, Tony Pope, to eight years.

A 12-month sentence is pending for former Superintendent Crawford Lewis after the judge rejected his earlier plea deal with the DeKalb district attorney.

Reid was found guilty of funneling $1.4 million in contracts to Pope, whom she was married to while she was running the school district’s construction program.

In exchange for his Oct. 16 guilty plea to misdemeanor obstruction, Lewis turned state’s evidence and testified against Reid and Pope, but at Monday’s sentencing hearing, Becker said that Lewis deserves to be jailed.

She told him that he could reconsider his plea in view of her decision to reject the prosecutors’ recommended penalty.

‘Threatening’ comments from Reid

Lewis testified that when he found out what Reid, who reported to him, was doing, she told him she had not done anything illegal or immoral.

“And even if she did, there were not people smart enough to figure out what she had done,” Lewis testified on Nov. 7.

When Reid found out he wanted to fire her, Lewis said she asked for a meeting in a parking lot.

“Mrs. Pope said to me that DeKalb Schools was certainly not the first place that she has worked and where she had worked in other places she always carried with her a little black box … she said to me I was in her black box as were other members of the Board of Education,” he testified.

After that conversation, Lewis said he felt compelled to talk to his wife.

“Honestly, I felt that Mrs. Pope’s comments were threatening in nature,” he testified. “I needed to tell my wife that I had been involved in an inappropriate relationship with a staff member.”

Judge Becker said she would impose a final sentence after Lewis has had a chance to confer with his lawyers. Sheriff’s deputies took Lewis into custody and led him out of court in handcuffs.

On Dec. 10, Lewis filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea, and on Dec. 11, he filed a motion to be released from jail on bond. He is scheduled to return to court for a final hearing on Dec. 17.

District Attorney Robert James said professional rules prevent him from commenting on the judge’s rejection of the Lewis plea deal, but he said it is unclear whether Lewis will be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea.

“I think it would be inappropriate based on the model rules for conduct of lawyers, especially prosecutors, for me to comment based on what may be a pending case,” he said.

Reid, Pope in shackles

A DeKalb jury found Reid and Pope guilty of racketeering on Nov. 20 in the high-profile corruption trial that transfixed the county for three weeks.

Both were taken into custody from the courtroom in handcuffs and were brought to the Dec. 9 sentencing hearing in shackles.

Reid also was found guilty of theft by taking for having school district workers repair her county-issued Ford Explorer just before she bought it for one-third its value. The SUV was eventually returned after an investigation of the purchase began.

When Reid was hired as the school district’s COO in 2005, her then-husband’s company, A. Vincent Pope Construction, had a contract to renovate Columbia High. During the trial, prosecutors allege that Reid funneled 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 contended that Pope helped a contractor and another architect, both unindicted co-conspirators, adjust their proposals for the McNair renovations to win the contract. Pope later was the architect, working in the background, on renovations at the McNair Elementary School Cluster.

James said he is pleased with the sentencing.

“I believe the jury spoke very clearly and the judge sent a strong message that this type of behavior by public officials and people who are entrusted with public funds will not be tolerated,” he said.