Update: Indictments cite CB&T account, Nike contracts in Columbus Parks & Rec probe

tchitwood@ledger-enquirer.comFebruary 7, 2011 

Indictments against three men arrested in last year’s Columbus Parks and Recreation scandal allege an elaborate scheme of double-dealing involving kickbacks and forgery.

Former Columbus Parks and Recreation Department Director Tony Adams and recreation program specialist Herman Porter were indicted Monday on seven counts related to the police investigation that led to their arrests last year.

A third defendant, William Fox, was indicted on three counts. Fox operated East Marietta Basketball Inc., with which Adams and Porter were connected.

The indictments charge Adams and Porter with three counts of conspiracy to defraud a political subdivision — the city — and two counts each of theft by taking and first-degree forgery. Fox faces two counts of conspiracy to defraud a political subdivision and one count of theft by taking.

When Adams and Porter were arrested Aug. 24, Police Chief Ricky Boren said they had funneled more than $200,000 to a private CB&T account and that the money should have gone to the city. The police investigation’s primary focus was an elite city-owned basketball team called the Georgia Blazers, through which East Marietta Basketball got money and equipment from sports-gear giant Nike Inc.

The city fired Adams, 48, on Sept. 28. Porter, 42, has been on administrative leave without pay since his arrest.

The three men are expected to be arraigned in Superior Court later this month.

Here’s a rundown of the indictments filed Monday:

• Count 1, conspiracy to defraud a political subdivision: Charges that between April 18, 2005, and May 31, 2010, Adams and Porter conspired to steal from the city by opening a CB&T account in the name of the “Columbus Blazer Athletic Program,” into which city funds were to be deposited.

• Count 2, first-degree forgery: Alleges that Adams and Porter opened the account using the city’s tax-exempt identification number, as if they were authorized to when in fact they were not.

• Count 3, first-degree forgery: Says Adams and Porter claimed to represent a fictitious corporation called the “Columbus Blazer Athletic Program” on the account.

• Count 4, theft by taking: Says that from April 2005 to May 2010, Adams and Porter took basketball tournament funds that should have gone into city coffers.

• Count 5, conspiracy to defraud a political subdivision: Charges that Adams, Porter and Fox over those five years engaged in a “kickback scheme,” in which Adams and Porter arranged for the city to host basketball tournaments that Fox sanctioned as president of “Youth Basketball Organization of America-Georgia” and as director of East Marietta Basketball. For those games, the city of Columbus with Adams’ authorization reimbursed Fox for referee fees, which Fox then kicked back to Adams and Porter, who deposited the funds to a CB&T account.

• Count 6, conspiracy to defraud a political subdivision: Says that over the same five years Adams, Porter and Fox misrepresented the relationship between East Marietta Basketball and the city-owned Georgia Blazers in order to secure Nike contracts providing money and sports gear over which Adams and Porter gained control in their city jobs. They claimed that East Marietta Basketball was playing games as the Georgia Blazers, that Adams was the director of East Marietta Basketball, and that East Marietta Basketball’s address was 107 41st St., which is Columbus’ Comer Gym, the Parks and Rec headquarters. They used East Marietta’s tax-exempt ID number for those agreements, the indictment states.

• Count 7, theft by taking: Alleges that between June 16, 2007, and May 30, 2008, Adams, Porter and Fox took checks or money orders written to the “Columbus Blazers,” “Georgia Blazers,” “Columbus Parks and Rec” or “Columbus Parks and Recreation,” and that Fox deposited those funds to East Marietta Basketball, when they should have gone to the city.

The bank account over which Adams and Porter had control was closed May 21, 2010, just days after an audit raising questions about Parks and Rec operations was made public and the Ledger-Enquirer sought Nike contracts with the city under Georgia’ Open Records Act. That audit noted that the Blazers, an elite traveling basketball team in the Parks and Rec Department’s Innovative Sports Program, had so few local players that it primarily served out-of-town youth.

Then-Mayor Jim Wetherington had ordered the audit in September 2009, before the city put money from a 2008 Local Option Sales Tax into crime-prevention programs that would have been run through Parks and Rec.

Internal auditor John Redmond met with Adams in March last year to discuss the audit findings, which in mid-May were sent to Wetherington. On May 17, the Ledger-Enquirer got a draft copy of the audit and reported serious questions about operations and finances in the department, which had a $10 million annual budget and about 300 employees.

On May 28, Wetherington ordered Columbus police to investigate, soon after the Ledger-Enquirer started looking into the Innovative Sports Program. When the audit findings were publicized, the city manager’s office suspended the program, which spent about $130,000 in fiscal 2009, according to the Parks and Rec audit response presented to Columbus Council on June 8.

The Blazers basketball program fielded about a dozen boys’ and girls’ teams. About half of the nearly 150 players on those teams came from outside Columbus. Some traveled from as far as Mobile, Ala., and near Valdosta. Many of the teams’ coaches were full- or part-time Parks and Rec employees. The city provided vans with city-paid drivers for travel to tournaments. The city also paid tournament entry fees and certification fees for coaches.

Among the Blazers’ teams was an under-17 Nike sponsored boys squad that Adams coached and Porter managed. It had played across the United States in high-profile tournaments where college coaches and recruiters watched. Of the team’s 13 players, only one was from Columbus. The others came from as far away as Bonifay, Fla., and Wilcox County, Ga. The team played in a new Nike league that held games in Hampton, Va., Houston and Los Angeles. The team went to Los Angeles on Memorial Day weekend.

Adams joined the city government in March 1990 and became the Parks and Recreation Department director in 2002, according to the city human resources department. His annual salary was $78,939. He’s a 1980 graduate of the former Baker High School and in 1986 got a bachelor’s degree in Recreation and Park Administration from Columbus College, now Columbus State University.

Porter joined the Parks and Recreation Department in June 1991. As a recreation program specialist, he had an annual salary of $30,888. He previously worked for the South Columbus Boys Club and the Phenix City-Russell County Boys Club.

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