Originally published March 6, 2009
An internal audit of the Muscogee County Marshal’s Office shows that Vivian Creighton Bishop, wife of U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, received more than $7,000 in pay intended for her son-in-law.
According to records obtained through Georgia’s Open Records Act, Stephen M. Reese was paid $7,275 before taxes during a seven-month period from November 2007 until July 2008 as an assistant for the Junior Marshal’s program, which is funded in part by a federal grant secured by the congressman.
The money paid to Reese was direct-deposited into a Columbus Bank and Trust Co. account in the name of Vivian Creighton Bishop, city records show. A canceled check from Creighton Bishop’s CB&T account is on file in the city’s human resources department. The canceled check was used to start the direct deposit.
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Creighton Bishop is the clerk of Columbus Municipal Court.
The Marshal’s Office is under a Georgia Bureau ofInvestigation inquiry requested by Marshal Greg Countryman. His request came after a city auditor raised concerns about part-time pay received in 2008-2009 by Creighton Bishop’s daughter — who isBishop’s step-daughter — and the city was preparing to notify the GBI, City Attorney Clifton Fay said.
“I have sought legal counsel, and they suggested I not comment until the investigation is over,” Creighton Bishop said Wednesday afternoon.
She said she had not retained an attorney but talked to a friend who is a lawyer. She declined to name that friend.
Congressman Bishop said it was “an awkward situation for all of us.”
“I was not aware of a direct deposit of any sort until yesterday,” he said Wednesday afternoon.
The representative said his wife has a separate account at CB&T and that his only account at CB&T is his campaign fund. He said his wife’s name is on his personal accounts with another bank.
Bank account information was redacted from the records obtained from the city.
City Internal Auditor John Redmond began an inquiry into payroll records in the marshal’s office after an audit Feb. 19. About a week later, more digging by Redmond revealed the payments to Creighton Bishop.
Redmond said the money was deposited into Creighton Bishop’s account. “That has been confirmed through Human Resources and payroll,” Redmond said Wednesday.
Redmond said the bank account information is being turned over to the GBI.
“They are picking it up today,” he said Wednesday morning.
Fay, whose office responded to the Ledger-Enquirer’s Open Records Act request, confirmed Redmond’s findings.
“That appears to be where it goes,” he said.
The Junior Marshal Program, started by Countryman in 2005 as an outreach to at-risk children, is funded in part by a $118,000 federal appropriation that Bishop helped secure in 2008.
Countryman said he did not know that Stephen Reese’s pay was deposited into Creighton Bishop’s bank account.
“After the hiring process, Human Resources does all that,” Countryman said. “I don’t know anything beyond the hiring.”
Countryman said Reese, who lived in Lithonia, Ga., worked weekends and some days as an assistant director of the Junior Marshal Program.
Bishop said he was aware that Reese was working for the program.
“He applied and was working in town from time to time,” the congressman said. “I had no idea what his pay was or how he received it.”
Redmond called for the payroll audit of the marshal’s office after he got a “second-hand tip something was amiss with payroll.” The audit showed that last month the office had 24employees, including the marshal.
Aayesha Reese, Creighton Bishop’s daughter and the congressman’s stepdaughter, was working part time in the Marshal’s Office while living in Lithonia, Ga., an east Atlanta suburb 120 miles from Columbus. She also is working full time in the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office.
Stephen Reese and Aayesha Reese are married.
“I had some concerns because of the address and location,” Redmond said.
Redmond reports to Columbus Mayor Jim Wetherington.
Aayesha Reese started working for the Junior Marshal Program on Sept. 22, 2008, city records show. Between Oct. 3 and Feb. 20, she was paid $7,575 gross salary. Her job title in city records is listed as administrative assistant, Junior Marshal Program.
Redmond said it was not until Feb. 23 that he knew Reese is Creighton Bishop’s daughter.
Fay said Aayesha Reese appeared to have been working in the Fulton County office and the Muscogee County office at the same time, based on payroll and time sheet records.
“That is the way it appears to our auditor and the way it appears to me,” Fay said.
The congressman wrote in a letter to Countryman on Feb. 24 that he had learned four days earlier his stepdaughter was working for the marshal’s office, and he had advised Countryman to discontinue her employment.
Bishop said he also has brought this to the attention of the House Appropriations Committee, on which he serves. He said he was advised it was not illegal for Aayesha Reese to be employed by the Junior Marshal Program, “but I was not comfortable with it.”
Bishop noted in the letter that, “I understand further that Aayesha has in fact performed her duties as a part-time employee.”
He said Wednesday he hopes people wait for all the facts to come out before making judgment.
“I regret it,” Bishop said. “It is an awkward situation for all of us, but there has been no illegality.”