Originally published March 3, 2009.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is looking into the employment of a congressman’s stepdaughter by the Muscogee County Marshal’s Office.
Aayesha Owens Reese, the stepdaughter of U.S. Congressman Sanford Bishop and daughter of Columbus Municipal Court Clerk Vivian Creighton Bishop, started working for the Junior Marshal Program on Sept. 22, 2008, city Human Resources Department 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.
Reese, who lives in Lithonia, Ga., also works full time for the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office.
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“We are doing an inquiry to determine if there is any criminal conduct,” said Rodney Wall, GBI special agent in charge. “... Basically, we are trying to determine if there was any criminal misappropriation of funds or not. Is she doing her job for Muscogee County on Fulton County time or vice versa?”
Reese declined an interview request Monday through her mother.
The Junior Marshal Program, started by Marshal Greg Countryman in 2005 as an outreach to at-risk children, is funded in part by a $118,000 federal appropriation Bishop helped secure in 2008.
The inquiry began at the request of Countryman, who said he notified the GBI after “hearing whispers in the building” and is confident there is no wrongdoing.
“Rather than hearing whispers, I aggressively dealt with it,” he said. “The talk was we had people not earning their money in the Junior Marshal Program.”
A payroll audit of the marshal’s office was conducted Feb. 19 by the city’s internal auditor, City Manager Isaiah Hugley said. Such audits, in which an employee must leave a signature and show identification to get a pay stub, are common practice in city government.
The marshal said he contacted the GBI on Feb 20, and Wall said the inquiry began with an interview of Countryman on Feb. 23.
The facts will come out, Countryman said.
“This is politically motivated and personal,” he said. “I know it is, and others know it is.”
Countryman declined to explain the political nature of the inquiry.
Bishop wrote a letter to Countryman on Feb. 24, a day after the GBI inquiry began. He said it was brought to his attention on Feb. 20 that his stepdaughter was hired last fall to work in the program. The congressman restated in an interview Monday he had “no idea” Reese was working for the Marshal’s Office.
“Aayesha Owens Reese has a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice and years of experience in law enforcement,” Bishop wrote to Countryman. “... Because the Junior Marshal Program has been funded in part by Congressionally Directed Spending through the U.S. Department of Justice, facilitated by requests for appropriations from our 2nd District Congressional Office upon requests from you in your capacity as Muscogee County Marshal, it is my opinion that Aayesha should not be paid from Congressionally Directed funds.”
Bishop noted that, “I understand further that Aayesha has in fact performed her duties as a part-time employee.”
He also said she should discontinue “any paid employment” from the program.
Bishop said Monday he was unaware of the GBI inquiry. He offered praise for the Junior Marshal Program.
“It is an excellent program, one of the best mentoring programs in the area,” he said.
Countryman said he has told Mayor Jim Wetherington, City Attorney Clifton Fay and Hugley of the GBI inquiry.
Wetherington declined to comment on it Monday afternoon. “I don’t think it is appropriate for me to comment on a GBI investigation,” the mayor said.