By Kevin Hogencamp
With a lot at stake amid a stormy tenure as city manager and with the city attorney’s blessing, Alfred Lott made a decision earlier this year to sweep a federal forgery case at city hall under the rug.
Instead of notifying the federal agency that was defrauded on the city’s behalf and firing the employee who Lott says committed federal crimes, Lott and Community and Economic Development Director Latoya Cutts allowed the employee to quietly resign.
On Tuesday, however, the closed-door decision to sweep the matter under the rug was overturned.
Following The Albany Journal’s exposure of the altering of federal documents on Lott’s watch, Albany Police Chief John Proctor and District Attorney Greg Edwards decided Tuesday to turn the matter over to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The decision was particularly dicey because Proctor works for Lott.
Neither Proctor nor Edwards said, though, whether they knew about the forgeries before the Journal revealed them on Sept. 1. The Journal asked them the question late in the day Tuesday, but did not get an immediate response.
Records show that city employee Geraldine Fletcher, who managed the city’s federally funded weatherization program, forged signatures of residents who received public money to pay for making their homes more energy efficient. City Attorney Nathan Davis advised Lott in April that Fletcher’s actions were crimes, likely felonies, punishable by a prison term. Still, Fletcher was allowed to return to work after the crimes were discovered before deciding to adhere to the city administration’s request to resign, records show.
The city receives more than $50,000 in U.S. Department of Energy funds annually in a program administered federally by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Fletcher’s salary was paid largely with those funds; she was a longtime city employee.
Public records reviewed also indicate that the matter was not reported to police or the federal government – the victim of Fletcher’s alleged transgressions. The treatment given by Lott to Fletcher this spring is in contrast to that of airport maintenance supervisor Sean Reddish, who was arrested and charged with a felony for cashing in on $1,100 of scrap metal.
Davis recommended that Fletcher be terminated, saying that she was guilty of crimes in her role operating the federally funded Community and Economic Development Department’s weatherization program.
“We want to acknowledge two criminal statutes that impact the instant matter,” Davis wrote to Cutts, Fletcher’s department director; Lott; Assistant City Manager James Taylor; and then Human Resources Management Director Mary LaMont.
“First the forgery statute (OCGA 16-9-1),” Davis wrote. “When the employee signed the applicant’s name to this document, a document specifically designed to show the applicant’s approval of repairs, and such act was done with intent to defraud, there is a sufficient basis for a felony charge.
“Second, the employee’s actions also raise the misdemeanor statute (OCGA 16-10-20) of falsifying a material fact or making sue of a false document. This statute may validly be applied to the employee’s conduct …”
Davis continued, “The employee undertook to falsify the document. At a bare minimum, the misdemeanor statute unquestionably does not permit this. The impact on your department (a false document was prepared and you have to explain the situation to the agency that received that document) is such that it is difficult to imagine anything less than termination as an appropriate response.”
In earlier correspondence to Davis, Cutts stated that Fletcher “admitted to falsifying signatures on federal documents.” After the transgression was discovered, Fletcher was placed on paid administrative leave, and then was allowed to return to work from March 30 until April 9 as Cutts awaited direction from Lott on “final disciplinary action,” Cutts said.
Fletcher resigned April 12 after being encouraged to do so in an April 9 letter from Cutts. In the letter, Cutts wrote: “While preparing for a recent monitoring visit, a review of your weatherization files was conducted by your supervisor, Laura McCool. During her review of your files, Laura found numerous errors and missing documents. She also noticed what appeared to be discrepancies in signatures that were in the files … When I asked out right if you had falsified “any” signatures on any of the documents, you answered ‘yes’.”
Lott, meanwhile, also is under scrutiny for failings involving federal finances – including allowing a developer and church to obtain $500,000 and $364,000 of taxpayer funds without paying the money back or building the project. Both of those blunders were projects of the Community and Economic Development Department.
The district attorney’s office is investigating the Greater Cutliff Grove Missionary Baptist Church project, but thus far has allowed the unpaid $500,000 loan to Mayor Willie Adams’ former campaign manager to go without investigative scrutiny.