Former Columbus Parks and Recreation Department Director Tony Adams and two other men pleaded guilty today for their roles in the a scheme to defraud money from the city.
Adams, former city recreation services specialist Herman Porter and East Marietta Basketball Inc., Director William Fox enter their pleas in front of Superior Court Judge John Allen. Adams and Fox pleaded guilty to felony counts and Porter pleaded guilty to three misdemeanors.
All three were placed on probation and ordered to pay restitution to the city. None of them received jail or prison time.
The three men face charges of defrauding the city by diverting public funds from a city-run basketball team called the Georgia Blazers. Fox for a time was the conduit through which Adams and Porter got money and equipment from sports-gear giant Nike Inc., and those funds should have gone into city coffers instead of into a private account Adams and Porter controlled, police said.
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-- Adams: Guilty pleas to two felony counts of conspiracy to defraud. He was sentenced to four years probation, $25,000 restitution and 50 hours community service.
-- Fox: Guilty plea to one felony count of conspiracy to defraud. He was sentenced to four years probation, $25,000 restitution and 100 hours community service.
-- Porter: Three misdemeanor theft charges. He was sentenced to 12 months consecutive probation on each charge and $20,000 restitution.
Attorneys for all three have been discussing plea agreements with Chief Assistant District Attorney Al Whitaker for several weeks.
There was a two-hour delay while the attorneys hammered out the final details. Before the delay was announced, Whitaker snapped at Adams' attorney Shevon Sutcliffe Thomas, telling Adams' attorney the case would go to trial if a plea deal was not reached.
Porter is being represented by high-profile Atlanta defense attorney Manny Arora and Fox is being represented by Columbus attorney Frank Martin.
Here’s a rundown of the indictments:
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 as the “Columbus Blazer Athletic Program,” into which city funds were to be deposited.
Count 2, first-degree forgery, alleges that Adams and Porter opened that account using the city’s tax-exempt identification number, as if they had authorization to when in fact they did 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 them 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. Those contracts 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 then deposited those funds to East Marietta Basketball, though the money 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. 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.
Internal auditor John Redmond met with Adams last year in March to discuss the audit findings, which in mid-May were sent to then-Mayor Jim Wetherington. On May 17, the Ledger-Enquirer got a draft of the audit and reported questions about operations and finances in the department, which had a $10 million annual budget and about 300 employees.