DISTRICT ATTORNEY: RECORDS STILL UNDER REVIEW
By Kevin Hogencamp
Nearly a year later, the investigation into wrongdoing associated with the City of Albany’s business relationship with Cutliff Grove Family Resource Center is almost completed, Dougherty District Attorney Greg Edwards said Tuesday.
The criminal probe began after public outcry prompted the Albany City Commission to reverse its decision to allow Cutliff Grove, its developer and others to walk away with $364,000 in public funds from a failed housing development.
Facing a roomful of angry citizens, many of whom had vehemently bent their ears during phone calls City Commission members refused to let citizens speak, but voted 6-1 last August to ask Edwards to investigate the matter. The probe – which forced then-City Manager Alfred Lott to open the taxpayer’s books rather than allow him to continue to illegally conceal them — could result in criminal charges being filed against Cutliff officials and city staffers.
Cutliff Grove had proposed a housing development for low-income residents across from Greater Cutliff on the 800 block of West Broad Avenue. Because of irregularities on Lott’s staff’s part, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development forced the city to repay the $364,000 in federal funds that the city gave to Cutliff Grove in increments to get the project started. HUD also decertified Cutliff Grove as a community housing development corporation.
John Rivers, the financially troubled Columbus architect who Lott tried to give $16 million in public funds to redevelop the former Heritage House hotel, was the Cutliff Grove project’s developer.
Explaining the lengthy probe, Edwards said Tuesday that “a substantial amount of the time relating to this matter was consumed by the need to obtain banking and other related financial records (and) many of the necessary records were secured outside of the state of Georgia.”
“Personal service of subpoenas on bank officials was required in many instances along with the compilation of the records from various sources and a detailed analysis of the records received,” Edwards said. “Because a particular bank official was finally personally served at the end of July, it is anticipated that the last of these records should be secured within this month.
“Upon completion of the analysis, the findings will be addressed and this office will act as deemed appropriate by the facts and the law. As this is a matter of public interest, all such related information … will be made available.”
Last August, City Commission members Dorothy Hubbard and Christopher Pike said citizen outrage prompted them to change their earlier votes to allow Cutliff Grove to keep the $364,000 in taxpayer funds from the failed project.
Mayor Willie Adams and commissioners Jon Howard and Bob Langstaff also reversed their votes after Commissioner Roger Marietta was initially all alone in his insistence that taxpayers be reimbursed by the money owed by Cutliff. Commissioner Tommie Postell, who has since proposed giving Cutliff Grove additional funding and has actively sought to have taxpayers pay for the failed project, cast the lone dissenting vote, saying “they haven’t done nothing criminal and shouldn’t be investigated.”
Residents’ calls to Howard, Marietta, Pike, Hubbard and Langstaff resulted in the commission deciding to open Lott’s books to criminal investigators. “In all my years on the commission, never has one issue been so unanimous in terms of citizen support. All of the calls I received were from people upset (about forgiving Cutliff Grove’s debt to the city),” Hubbard said last year.
Dr. McKinley Drake, the resource center’s chief executive officer and pastor of Greater Cutliff Grove Baptist Church, said after the vote that he welcomes the probe. Earlier, he said city officials were to blame for problems that occurred with the project.
“We have nothing to hide. We have all the receipts, everything, all the invoices,” Drake said in an interview with The Albany Journal. “I have no problem with an investigation. We did nothing wrong.”
After some commissioners initially labeled the district attorney’s probe as a “criminal investigation,” the City Commission deliberately decided not to have Adams use the word “criminal” in his letter asking for Edwards to look into the matter. However, the district attorney’s office investigates crimes – not civil matters. Indeed, Edwards said last year that he may request the assistance of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Attorney’s Office or the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
Lott resigned under pressure in June 2010 in the wake of a scandal involving his human resources director, who has filed a federal race and sexual discrimination against Lott, he asked the City Commission if he could remain on the job until July 2011. The Cutliff Grove matter, however, prompted some commissioners to work behind the scenes to force Lott to resign sooner. He left his post in March 2011.