Surgery saved obese woman

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She couldn't work. She couldn't walk. She couldn't breathe.

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Atosha Harden before gastric bypass surgery  Annette M. Drowlette/Staff
Annette M. Drowlette/Staff
Atosha Harden before gastric bypass surgery

Two and a half years ago, Atosha Harden had become so morbidly obese, her health so critical, that her mother feared she would lose her. Her lungs weren't expanding properly. She suffered seizures and sleep apnea, and she was in the hospital every month with pneumonia. She was also on the verge of kidney failure.

At her worst, Ms. Harden said, she weighed 465 pounds.

"I had to bathe her, like a baby," her mother Hazel Newsome said. "She was dying."

A customer service representative for Augusta Utilities, Ms. Harden had health insurance through Blue Cross Blue Shield. Doctors were recommending gastric bypass surgery -- an intestinal rearrangement to decrease stomach volume -- but the company wouldn't cover it, she said.

But the surgery was done on May 10, 2007, at Trinity Hospital, and it was done because of Commissioner Betty Beard, Ms. Harden said. Ms. Beard told The Augusta Chronicle on Wednesday that she steered $20,000 to Ms. Harden's surgery out of a $25,000 donation given to the city by Edmundson and Gallagher Group, the developer who turned Maxwell House Apartments into Section 8 housing.

Why the money was paid and how it wound up funding a city employee's surgery is now under investigation by the Richmond County Sheriff's Office and the FBI, a source in law enforcement confirmed to The Chronicle on Thursday. Ms. Harden and Mrs. Newsome said they never expected this to happen, and they feel awful about it. The scrutiny might lead to problems for them, too, because the money wasn't reported in tax filings, Mrs. Newsome said.

"She saved my child's life," Mrs. Newsome said of Ms. Beard.

"I hate it," Ms. Harden, 39, said. "I understand that people are going to have their opinions and their views, but she was my angel-sent. She was my voice when I had no voice."

Also defending Ms. Beard on Friday was Edmundson and Gallagher principal Tom Gallagher, who called the notion that his company bribed Ms. Beard to get support for Maxwell House renovations "absolutely ridiculous."

Ms. Beard, whose home phone was perpetually busy Friday and who didn't answer her cell phone, said Thursday that "if I have to go to jail over something like this, that's fine." Mr. Gallagher said the same goes for him, and he'd be more than willing to explain it all to the FBI.

In 2004, the Virginia-based developer and Atlanta-based Progressive Redevelopment were trying to drum up support for the Augusta Housing Authority's issuance of tax-exempt bonds allowing Maxwell House, a high-rise at the corner of Greene and 10th streets, to be renovated into subsidized housing.

Mr. Gallagher said when he first proposed the plan to city officials, the deal included a $25,000 charitable contribution.

"As part of that transaction, we said we'd like to put something back into the community," he said.

Initially, when he made the pitch to Main Street Augusta -- a now-defunct arm of the Downtown Development Authority -- he suggested the money go toward streetscape improvements on Greene Street, Mr. Gallagher said. He said this was done in the open, to the organization as a whole, and later to the commission as a whole.

"Really, we 'bribed' everybody," he said. "They're called proffers in the public world."

Mr. Gallagher said it's a common practice across the country. When a developer seeks to profit off a community, they offer to give something back, he said.

"This is done all the time in these deals," he said. "Normally, it's demanded. It could be a turning lane, it could be a contribution to the community, it could be a day care."

Both Main Street Augusta and former Mayor Bob Young -- who as mayor could have signed off on the bond endorsement the company was seeking -- refused to back the Maxwell House plan. Mr. Young said Thursday that he didn't think downtown needed any more Section 8 housing.

But Mr. Gallagher found support on the Augusta Commission. Ms. Beard said Thursday that she supports affordable housing and would have voted to approve the resolution regardless of the $25,000 offer.

The bond endorsement resolution passed 7-3 in December 2004. Mr. Gallagher said he called Ms. Beard later and told her he wanted to honor the $25,000 commitment, that the money could go to a charity of her choice. He said he was dealing with her because the building was in her district.

According to city financial records obtained under an open records request, Maxwell House LLC cut a $25,000 check to the city in September 2005. Ms. Beard presented a $5,000 check to the Augusta Youth Center on Oct. 4.

But at the Oct. 18 meeting, Mr. Young raised the issue and then-City Attorney Steve Shepard advised returning the money, saying he was concerned that accepting a gift violated the ethics ordinance and could create an appearance of impropriety for Ms. Beard. The commission voted 6-2-2 to do so, with Ms. Beard abstaining.

The city cut a $20,000 check to Maxwell House LLC, dated March 23, 2007 -- 17 months after the commission vote. Mr. Gallagher said when the money came, he spoke to Ms. Beard again and said he still wanted to give the money to charity. She suggested helping a morbidly obese employee, and Mr. Gallagher said he approved.

Asked who the $20,000 was paid to, Mr. Gallagher said he couldn't recall, that the records are now in storage.

Mrs. Newsome said she had set up the Atosha Harden Health Fund at First Bank, and she doesn't know who deposited the money into the account. She said she, in turn, paid the money to bariatric surgeon Michael Blaney.

Before the surgery, Ms. Harden had been out of work for more than a year on long-term disability. She was taking nine different medications and was on oxygen.

Her mother, Mrs. Newsome, said Ms. Beard has been a friend of the family since the early 1990s, when Mrs. Newsome was her hairdresser and Ms. Beard and her late husband, Lee Beard, lived in Maxwell House themselves.

After she mentioned the health insurance problem to Ms. Beard, the commissioner took the matter to City Administrator Fred Russell, who said Wednesday that he told her nothing could be done. Mrs. Newsome said Ms. Beard later told her she could get the money out of a donation.

Ms. Harden said she's since lost 245 pounds. She put on 15 pounds before she gave birth to a daughter in March, but she's since lost that weight, too.

"I'm still losing," she said. "I feel so good. I'm able to do things that I never thought I'd be able to do again, like go to the mall, go to the grocery store, walk to my car.

"She was just doing something from her heart," Ms. Harden said of Ms. Beard. "This wasn't malice or deceit. This was nothing to benefit her. This was just her helping someone that she knew didn't have any any alternatives."

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or johnny.edwards@augustachronicle.com.

Comments (146) Add comment
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nofrills
0
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nofrills 09/19/09 - 08:36 am
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0
Ms. Beard has a little boy

Ms. Beard has a little boy named Anthony that lives in her district that is in need of serious medical help but you dont see her helping him. She should look around her district. She would be surprised how many of her district need medical help. She went to far with this money. I'm glad the lady will live but can we have accountablity? She took money that was to be returned and gave it to a poor black city worker. Why not a poor mexican or a poor jew? I smell racist undertones here!

getalife
4
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getalife 09/19/09 - 08:39 am
0
0
While Ms. Beard meant well

While Ms. Beard meant well with helping this overweight person, it was not her money to spend as she thought best. It was the community's money and should have been spent on something that would have affected all the people.

Grasshopper
7
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Grasshopper 09/19/09 - 08:40 am
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convertedsoutherner I agree

convertedsoutherner I agree there is probably some back room deals made between Beard and Maxwell. This is how our political system works. Special interest and lobbyist, who ran for change? How many give aways has O presented to the Unions? Unions have lobbyist, and are a special interest group.

CHSDARKHORSE
50
Points
CHSDARKHORSE 09/19/09 - 08:44 am
0
0
Just sit back and let the

Just sit back and let the feds sort it out. More suprises will probably surface!!

anotherlook
90
Points
anotherlook 09/19/09 - 08:45 am
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I may be missing something,

I may be missing something, (and I well could be), but if the commission voted 6-2 with 2 abstentions to return the money, then did they return ALL of the money? I ask that questions because the October 4th check had been given to the Augusta Youth Center for $5000.00 prior to the October 18th commission meeting. Did the commission let them keep the the money or did they take back the funds from the AYC? Did they give the AYC funds from another fund like the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) instead of the funds that were allocated from the Maxwell House LLC? I guess this goes back to my original question: Did ALL of the money get returned to the developers or only what was left after the AYC donation? This was not very clear to me from the article because the writer started out commenting on what transpired with the $25,000.00 donation and then changed the focus to just discussing what happened to the $20,000.00. Can anyone clarify this for me?

ColCo
805
Points
ColCo 09/19/09 - 08:53 am
0
0
It will be interesting to see

It will be interesting to see if an Obama-controlled Justice Department will choose to indict and prosecute Betty Beard.

MyOpinion2
5
Points
MyOpinion2 09/19/09 - 08:56 am
0
0
Betty Beard should have

Betty Beard should have donated her OWN money to this woman for a GYM or weight watchers. This woman didnt have to work for a thing, and got a quick easy fix. People need to take responsibility for themselves, already. It is no wonder our government is in the shape it is in. If she could not walk who was bringing her groceries? I would have brought her fruit and veggies, she would have had to walk for anything else.

catfish201
0
Points
catfish201 09/19/09 - 09:06 am
0
0
I waiting on Mike Ryan...he

I waiting on Mike Ryan...he is losing sleep over this editorial. You see old "Human Interest" Johnny Edwards grabbing the high ground already. I'm not going to live long enough to see this change. The way Blacks were treated in Augusta has left them so angry.

CobaltGeorge
160951
Points
CobaltGeorge 09/19/09 - 09:14 am
0
0
she gave birth to a daughter

she gave birth to a daughter - Doesn't this raise many questions or am I lacking common sense. My first question is, has she now got a job?

Junket831
0
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Junket831 09/19/09 - 09:17 am
0
0
Johnny, you need to provide

Johnny, you need to provide some follow-up to this story. For example, is Ms. Harden still out on disability? If no, then it would appear that ARC may be saving money in the long run. If she is still out on disability, this too needs to be investigated as her apparent condition seems to have improved enough for her to return to work or to terminate her employment if she no longer wishes to work. The IRS needs to weigh in on the "gift". Is it taxable or was it provided to a tax exempt fund? This certainly needs to be investigated, but it appears that from Ms. Beard's standpoint if she is guilty of anything it may be an ethical lapse, but maybe not. It all depends on the timing and intent of the gift.

rufus
2
Points
rufus 09/19/09 - 09:20 am
0
0
The FBI will find a ton of

The FBI will find a ton of things that ol betty did that are illegal. She is the worst kind of thief, one that is entrusted to watch out for the dumb masses

DowntownJaguar
121
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DowntownJaguar 09/19/09 - 09:23 am
0
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How did she get to 465

How did she get to 465 pounds?

suspicious1
0
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suspicious1 09/19/09 - 09:24 am
0
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These people are too stupid

These people are too stupid to realize when they're breaking the law.

Discussionstarter
495
Points
Discussionstarter 09/19/09 - 09:24 am
0
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This was NOT her money to do

This was NOT her money to do this with. If the investigation proves she improperly used the money and violated city ethics guidelines..... she needs to be held accountable. Accountable = jail time or restitution. Why should she be treatede differently. What ever happened with her housing 'slumlord' investigation. has that also been quietly taken care of?

DonH
13
Points
DonH 09/19/09 - 09:42 am
0
0
The donated money was not

The donated money was not handled appropriately. A better solution would have been to return the donated money to the donor and let the donor issue a new check directly to the person needing assistance. That way there would be no questions asked. Being the middle man and working for the public can often put one in situations that have the appearance of impropriety. Even though the donor gave permission to pass the money along to a needy person, Ms. Beard is now held accountable, unfortunately.

proud2bamerican
441
Points
proud2bamerican 09/19/09 - 09:47 am
0
0
Giving money to a personal

Giving money to a personal friend is not giving money to "charity"! a charity benefits many, "She saved my child's life," Mrs. Newsome said of Ms. Beard. SHE didn't save anyone - she took what didn't belong to her and gave it to someone who was too irresponsible to control her problems BEFORE they became "life threatening" and a burden to others.

proud2bamerican
441
Points
proud2bamerican 09/19/09 - 09:50 am
0
0
"my.voice" - You are into

"my.voice" - You are into banning free speech and reporting the news? Your comment, "Where in heck does the AC come off running this story?" is so discriminatory it is no wonder there are people doing things like Ms. Beard, thinking no one would find out.

AWyld1
3
Points
AWyld1 09/19/09 - 09:52 am
0
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I think she should resign her

I think she should resign her commission seat. It's obvious that she is thumbing her nose at the taxpayers. Daring someone to try and find fault in what she did. Whether it was illegal or not it is unethical.

Dell4
0
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Dell4 09/19/09 - 09:54 am
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Please answer the questions,

Please answer the questions, Did she have a job with insurance that paid for the birth of her child? Is she currently working? Why wasn't the money reported to the IRS?

proud2bamerican
441
Points
proud2bamerican 09/19/09 - 09:56 am
0
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"WW1949" Are you serious? You

"WW1949" Are you serious? You don't even know who the mayor is and yet you believe you have a valid opinion about the 'facts' of this issue?? You said, "Maybe I just do not understand. Mayor Young and Steve Shephard said give the money back." Do I need another reminder of how much time I am wasting when I read these comments and attempt to post something that might make a difference...this is NOT the place to get things done, but rather a place to criticize, point fingers and waste time. Moving on!!

proud2bamerican
441
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proud2bamerican 09/19/09 - 09:57 am
0
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amen Dell4 !!

amen Dell4 !!

corgimom
33199
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corgimom 09/19/09 - 10:01 am
0
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If Mr. Gallegher wants to pay

If Mr. Gallegher wants to pay people's medical bills, aren't there any sick people in Virginia?

AWyld1
3
Points
AWyld1 09/19/09 - 10:02 am
0
0
WW in order to be on the jury

WW in order to be on the jury you are not supposed to have any preconceived notion of guilt or innocence. Your statements above would negate your juror service.

proud2bamerican
441
Points
proud2bamerican 09/19/09 - 10:04 am
0
0
If a white person did the

If a white person did the same thing we would be shouting "racism...discrimination..." from the rooftops. The "race card" would be played to the MAX. So interesting how BB is being defended even in her 'criminal' and at the very least, her extremely unethical behavior.

butterflygina
159
Points
butterflygina 09/19/09 - 10:04 am
0
0
Looks like a few people going

Looks like a few people going doing behind this. Now this family seems to be supporting Mrs. Beard and explaining what happened. In reality they should have kept their mouths shut and Betty Beard saying she'll go to jail over this, that's exactly where she's going to end up at. I hear her husband would be appalled to hear of this mess.

elchupacabra
0
Points
elchupacabra 09/19/09 - 10:23 am
0
0
I loath Betty Beard. I would

I loath Betty Beard. I would love to see her in prison where she belongs. Helping out fatties with money that isn't even hers is tremendously irresponsible. How the hell do you become over 400 pounds anyway?!?!? Anyway, I hope the Feds do a stand up job on this case and put that slum lord malefactor a.k.a Betty Beard where she belongs, in the RICO SLAMMER! Now thats what I call city progress, cleaning up Harrisburg one piece of filth at a time.

Big_vike
1
Points
Big_vike 09/19/09 - 10:26 am
0
0
Looks like it PAYS to be a

Looks like it PAYS to be a commssioners friend.

iluvcollardgreens
0
Points
iluvcollardgreens 09/19/09 - 10:31 am
0
0
This was charity and ms.Beard

This was charity and ms.Beard saved a life. I would have done the same thing.By the way I'm a conservative and I believe this will blow up in Austin's face.

iluvcollardgreens
0
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iluvcollardgreens 09/19/09 - 10:33 am
0
0
This lady needed an operation

This lady needed an operation and the people who gave the money had no problem with it so whats the big deal people.

iluvcollardgreens
0
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iluvcollardgreens 09/19/09 - 10:37 am
0
0
Mrs.Beard may have said

Mrs.Beard may have said things in the past that were inappropriate but using this as a way to get baack at her for that which was said while she was on the board is not the appropriate thing to do.This was charity and i congradulate her for it.

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