Originally created 10/10/05

Official ignored ethics warnings



ATLANTA - The head of the state's prison system ignored ethics warnings against raising money from private contractors to fund a lavish conference, a Georgia Bureau of Investigation report revealed.

James Donald was ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing, but the GBI report said several corrections employees and the governor's top attorney cautioned him against the fundraising tactic, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in its Sunday editions.

He had hoped to avoid using taxpayer dollars to stage a lavish conference that would bring together branches of the state's criminal justice system to explore ideas on how to better ease prison inmates back into society.

Instead, he asked employee groups - composed mostly of state corrections workers - to solicit donations from private industries.

But many of those companies asked to make donations work with the state's corrections system, prompting concerns that the firms felt pressured to contribute.

Harold Melton, who was then the governor's top counsel, had advised Mr. Donald it was important not to tie contributions to expectations of contracts.

Several employees also raised concerns. Joe Ferrero, then assistant commissioner, said his questions resulted in a "lecture on leadership" from Mr. Donald.

In October, Mr. Donald went ahead with the Excellence in Corrections conference, which cost $137,000.

Keith Ingalls, who sells prison commissary goods, told investigators he was cautioned that it was in his "best interest" to support the conference. Fundraiser Ronald Fountain told the GBI that business owners were reluctant to give but still donated "out of fear their businesses would be adversely affected if they did not give."