After charging the Columbus Parks and Recreation director and a subordinate with two felonies related to their managing of a Nike-sponsored elite basketball team, police Chief Ricky Boren said Tuesday the department will hunt for “co-conspirators” involved in misusing public funds.
During an afternoon news conference following the arrests of Parks and Recreation Director Tony Adams, 47, and recreation program specialist Herman Porter, 41, Boren said the continuing investigation may lead to other suspects, and to additional charges against Adams and Porter.
“Our investigation is continuing and at this point in time we feel like that there are some unarrested co-conspirators,” Boren said.
Adams and Porter are accused of “false writings and fraudulent documents within the jurisdiction of a political subdivision” and “conspiracy to defraud a political subdivision” — both felonies — and of tax evasion through “unlawful filing of false documents,” a misdemeanor, police said.
Boren said Adams and Porter funneled more than $200,000 to a private account that should have gone to the city. The bank account over which Adams and Porter had control was opened in April 2005 and closed May 21, just days after an internal audit raising questions about Parks and Rec operations was made public.
Boren said the suspects’ first felony charge relates to their diverting public funds into that private account. The second involves their using the city’s tax-exempt ID number to avoid paying taxes, and the misdemeanor alleges they in fact evaded taxes, Boren said.
Adams and Porter were arrested about 11 a.m. Tuesday at the Columbus Police Department. They turned themselves in, accompanied by attorneys, and each was released later on bonds totaling $10,250, according to county jail records.
Asked whether detectives had found evidence anyone within the city government had tried to obstruct the police investigation or cover up information officers sought, Boren would say only: “That’s part of the investigation.”
He said authorities suspect Adams and Porter also violated the city charter and the Georgia Open Records Act. The latter accusation relates to their refusing to disclose contracts that Adams, on behalf of the Georgia Blazers team, has signed since 2005 with sports-gear giant Nike, the chief said. The contracts provided not only money, but also sports equipment such as shoes and gym bags to the Blazers, Boren said.
Stacey Jackson, the Columbus defense attorney who once represented both men and now represents only Porter, maintains that no contract exists between Nike and the city. In the past, Jackson has said the only contract is between Nike and a Metro Atlanta nonprofit known as East Marietta Basketball, and neither entity is subject to the state’s Open Records Act.
Boren showed a copy of a contract during Tuesday’s news conference. On behalf of the Blazers, Adams had signed it as “director” of East Marietta Basketball, but used the address of Columbus’ Comer Auditorium, the site of his Parks and Rec office, Boren said.
The contract’s other signer was a Nike representative.
Investigators found one contract from 2005 to 2007, a second from September 2007 to August 2009 — with an addendum to the latter on Jan. 2, 2008 — and a third dated Jan. 19 of this year, the chief said.
On July 9, in a letter to the Georgia Attorney General’s Office, Jackson wrote, “None of the funds from (East Marietta Basketball) were ever deposited into any account operated by, or on behalf of, the city of Columbus nor Columbus Parks and Recreation. No money was ever paid directly to any city employee nor on behalf of any city employee. There is no contract between Nike and the Georgia Blazers, Nike and the city of Columbus or Nike and the Columbus Parks and Recreation Department.”
Jackson said Tuesday that his stance on the contracts has not changed. No contract is with the city of Columbus or even mentions the city, he said.
Both the Ledger-Enquirer and the city attorney repeatedly have sought through the state’s Open Records Act to have those contracts made public. Now that the police department is the custodian of those records, it is withholding them as part of an ongoing investigation, for which the Open Records Act has an exemption.
Though some supporting Adams have claimed the Blazers are a private team, the investigation revealed it is a city sports team with a line item in the city budget, Boren said.
He said the funds going into the private Columbus Bank & Trust account Adams and Porter opened came from Nike, East Marietta Basketball, the Parks and Rec Department, the Columbus Sports Council and from membership fees and registrations.
Jackson compared Boren’s claim that the city owns the Blazers to claiming the state of Georgia owns the Columbus High School Blue Devils baseball team because players come from a school getting state funds through the county school district.
The Blue Devils get funds through their own booster club, too, Jackson said.
He said he now is representing only Porter. Columbus attorney Shevon Sutcliffe Thomas is representing Adams, Jackson said. Adams and Porter are also represented by Montgomery, Ala., sports attorney Don Jackson.
Part of the Parks and Recreation Department’s Innovative Sports Program, the Blazers are an elite 17-under boys squad that Adams coached and Porter managed.
It has played in high-profile tournaments across the country as college coaches and recruiters watched.
The team’s makeup was questioned in the city’s internal audit, which revealed most players live outside the city. This year’s team had 13 players, and only Kendrick High School’s Tim Dixon 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. Though City Manager Isaiah Hugley ordered Adams not to go, the team went to Los Angeles this year on Memorial Day weekend.
After the city placed Adams and Porter on administrative leave with pay, the two continued their involvement with the Blazers, attending a tournament in Orlando in late July. That prompted Hugley to send Adams and Porter letters telling them to cease working with city-sponsored teams or events while on leave.
Following their arrest Tuesday, Hugley said Adams and Porter would be placed on administrative leave without pay.
Columbus Council held a closed meeting Tuesday morning during which councilors were briefed on the Parks and Rec investigation.
During another council meeting Tuesday evening, Wetherington issued a statement saying he called for the internal audit to ensure the Parks and Rec Department was financially sound before he gave it funds from a newly established Crime Prevention Office.
He said he especially was troubled to learn city tax money was being spent on out-of-town residents, and that local children were denied access to the elite teams.
“The bottom line is that the young people who need attention and positive reinforcement the most have not had a place in our Parks and Recreation Department,” Wetherington said. “They have been left behind and that is going to change.”
Chuck Willliams and Alan Riquelmy contributed to this report.