'Returned' donation sat in bank

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Though the Augusta Commission had voted to return $20,000 given by developers of Maxwell House Apartments subsidized housing because of ethics concerns, the money lingered in the city's coffers for 17 months.

It didn't leave an interest-bearing checking account until someone had found a use for it -- gastric bypass surgery for a Utilities Department employee and family friend of Commissioner Betty Beard.

The city cut a $20,000 check to Maxwell House LLC on March 23, 2007. It was endorsed over to the Atosha Harden Health Fund and deposited three days later, according to a copy of the remittance obtained by The Chronicle under an open records request.

Tom Gallagher, a principal with Maxwell House developer Edmundson & Gallagher Group, said last week that he never wanted the money back, and when Ms. Beard asked him whether it would be OK to use it to help a morbidly obese woman, he said yes.

Former Commissioner Andy Cheek, who says he raised the ethics issue before the October 2005 vote to return the money, said Monday he's outraged the commission's directive wasn't followed.

"So they kept it in the account; then they ended up doing exactly what we told them not to do," Mr. Cheek said.

A law enforcement source confirmed last week that the Richmond County Sheriff's Office and the FBI are looking into why the Maxwell House developers gave $25,000 to the city and how it wound up paying for an employee's bariatric surgery.

Ms. Beard has said the bribery allegations are coming up years later in retaliation for her refusal to vote in favor of a $38 million trade, exhibit and event center downtown. She said helping Ms. Harden was "a wonderful thing to do," and "if I have to go to jail over something like this, that's fine."

Why a check wasn't written to Maxwell House after the 2005 vote wasn't clear Monday. Finance Director Donna Williams said her department never received instructions to issue one. When it did in 2007, the directive came in a memo to Ms. Williams from City Administrator Fred Russell.

Attempts to reach Mr. Russell on Monday resulted in a missed phone call, and subsequent messages weren't returned.

Ms. Beard said Monday that after the 2005 vote she thought the money had been returned to Maxwell House LLC -- the legal entity that owns the Greene Street high rise, set up by Virginia-based Edmundson & Gallagher and Atlanta-based Progressive Redevelopment.

In 2007, she began advocating for Ms. Harden, who was suffering health problems because of her weight but couldn't get coverage for surgery from Blue Cross Blue Shield. She had raised the issue repeatedly with Mr. Russell, and she said she even brought it up once in a closed legal meeting.

At some point, someone -- she can't recall who -- told her the Maxwell House money was still in the city's account. Though Mr. Russell has said that he doesn't recall it, Ms. Beard said she asked the city administrator whether the money could go to help Ms. Harden.

"He said, 'I don't see why not,' " Ms. Beard said.

Last week, Mr. Gallagher called the notion that his company bribed Ms. Beard "absolutely ridiculous." As part of the plan, Edmundson & Gallagher wanted to contribute $25,000 to the community, and this was offered openly to Main Street Augusta and to the Augusta Commission. Later, it was offered to a charity of Ms. Beard's choice because the building is in her district.

The developer sent a check to the city dated Sept. 29, 2005. At the next commission meeting, Ms. Beard presented a $5,000 check to Augusta Youth Center. At the time, she said, she planned to split the money among 13 charities.

According to commission rules, a commissioner can't arbitrarily route money out of an account without a vote by the full board. At the next meeting, on Oct. 18, the commission ratified the $5,000 donation and, on advice from former City Attorney Steve Shepard, voted to return the remaining $20,000 to Maxwell House.

Commissioner Don Grantham, who seconded the motion to return the money, said he plans to find out why it took nearly a year and a half to follow the board's instructions.

"I don't understand why it wasn't refunded within a reasonable time," he said Monday.

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

ONLINE EXTRA

Click here to see the check issued by the finance department. (.pdf)

WHAT'S NEXT

A group of pastors and activists will hold a news conference and rally in support of Commissioner Betty Beard at 5 p.m. today near the Lady Justice statue behind the Municipal Building at 530 Greene St.

TIMELINE

DEC. 21, 2004: The Augusta Commission votes 7-3 to approve a resolution endorsing the Augusta Housing Authority's issuance of tax-exempt bonds allowing Maxwell House Apartments to be renovated into Section 8 housing. Before the vote, Mayor Bob Young asks whether any cash payments have been promised to any groups in exchange for support. Tom Gallagher, a principal in Edmundson & Gallagher Group, says the developers have an interest in putting $25,000 into downtown Augusta, and it will go to a cause of District 1 Commissioner Betty Beard's choice.

SEPT. 29, 2005: Maxwell House LLC -- a legal entity set up by the developers to be the building's owner -- cuts a check for $25,000, made out to Augusta-Richmond County. A letter from Mr. Gallagher to Ms. Beard says the money is for "charities and nonprofit organizations in Richmond County."

SEPT. 30, 2005: Finance Director David Persaud writes a memo to Assistant Director of Accounting Donna Williams, directing her to cut a $5,000 check to the Augusta Youth Center. In an e-mail chain later in the day, Ms. Williams points out that the check is from Maxwell House LLC. "We have never before accepted private pass thru donations," she writes. "They are not attractive to most organizations since by writing the checks to us instead of the charity, they lose the status of it being tax deductible."

She asks whether she should make the city attorney aware of the situation.

"She stated it is from one of her trust fund, so I accepted it," Mr. Persaud responds. "I do not have a problem with what she is doing since it is her funds."

OCT. 4, 2005: At a commission meeting, Ms. Beard presents a $5,000 check to the Augusta Youth Center.

OCT. 18, 2005: City Attorney Steve Shepard advises returning the money to Maxwell House LLC, saying that under the ethics ordinance the commission cannot accept a gift and he's concerned about an appearance of impropriety for Ms. Beard. Commissioner Andy Cheek makes a motion to return the full $25,000, but Commissioner Bobby Hankerson makes a substitute motion to let the donation to the Augusta Youth Center stand. The vote is 6-2-2, with Ms. Beard abstaining, to ratify the $5,000 donation and return $20,000 to Maxwell House.

MARCH 23, 2007: City Administrator Fred Russell sends a memo to Ms. Williams, now interim finance director, telling her to issue a check to Maxwell House LLC for $20,000. A check is cut the same day.

MARCH 26, 2007: The check issued to Maxwell House LLC, endorsed to the Atosha Harden Health Fund, is deposited.

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goldie53
46
Points
goldie53 09/22/09 - 02:04 am
0
0
This is so wrong and against

This is so wrong and against all things held ethical. Anyone with any experience in Auditing and Finance can plainly see the diversion. Look at the check's endorsement. Mrs. Beard may have good intentions for this young lady but this doesn't pass the smell test. People protest all you want but this is an insult to the taxpayers of Augusta. Personally, I wouldn't want to be seen endorsing this type of behavior. If you have worked honestly for your money you should be ashamed to show up at the statue. I work hard for my money and earned every dime of it honestly. This is a mismanagement in the highest for our esteemed (LOL)commissioners. Let's remember that next time at the polls.

jsherrill
0
Points
jsherrill 09/22/09 - 02:38 am
0
0
Perhaps, Ms. Beard on some

Perhaps, Ms. Beard on some level felt a moral obligation to help her friend. If so, why not cut her a check from her own money. However, she thought to overide ethics and use tax payers money. I suppose one can reason most anything. I would like help with consumer debt. Can the Commission cut me a check?

cajunnana2000
2
Points
cajunnana2000 09/22/09 - 03:38 am
0
0
I personally cannot see why a

I personally cannot see why a person qualified for Ms Beard's position should have to ASK the City Administrator IF the money could go to help a private citizen. There is suppose to be the reason she is in that position.

AhsanMinnik
0
Points
AhsanMinnik 09/22/09 - 03:39 am
0
0
I hope Ms Beard enjoys her

I hope Ms Beard enjoys her upcoming trip to Mexico, straight to the Cancun.

dickworth1
954
Points
dickworth1 09/22/09 - 04:54 am
0
0
Where is Fred Russell and why
Unpublished

Where is Fred Russell and why can't he be reached? I wonder
how if this is the first time this has happen, maybe an audit
by the FBI is in order to protect the taxpayers! It is time for
for answers from everyone involved and time for some resignations from all that knew and just did nothing. For those
trying to say the Tee center vote is the reason all this has come
out is bull hockey, I believe that the person involved in the TEE
center has been charged. You can not overlook the fact that
this money was to go to charities.

Brad Owens
4583
Points
Brad Owens 09/22/09 - 05:46 am
0
0
It is funny that none of you

It is funny that none of you are rasing hell about the fact that the money sat in the county coffer collecting inetrest for the county while express orders from the Comission were ignored. It seems to me that there is more to this story now than I thought. If it stayed there it stayed there because it was supposed to. I don't think Mrs. Beard commited a criminal offense, but should the county administrator/staff be able to enforce the will of the eleceted officials in a matter like this? I mean Steve said they needed to RETURN the money, not hold on to it and collect interest until someone (maybe Beard) could find a way to use it. This needs further looking into but SO DOES MANY DEALS THEY HAVE DONE! And I hope the admin section doesn't get off free on this one either.

AhsanMinnik
0
Points
AhsanMinnik 09/22/09 - 06:08 am
0
0
Brad - I'm attempting levity

Brad - I'm attempting levity and I'm willing to let the FBI get to the bottom of it. Just like Mr Fry, we don't know yet. In the meantime I'll keep cracking jokes about both of them.

Grasshopper
7
Points
Grasshopper 09/22/09 - 06:10 am
0
0
It will be sad, the

It will be sad, the politicians will come out clean, and a city employee will be fired.

ColdBeerBoiledPeanuts
8341
Points
ColdBeerBoiledPeanuts 09/22/09 - 06:14 am
0
0
It seems as if the Lion had

It seems as if the Lion had been "Bearded"!

ispy4u
0
Points
ispy4u 09/22/09 - 06:15 am
0
0
Great post Brad.

Great post Brad.

nofrills
0
Points
nofrills 09/22/09 - 06:18 am
0
0
Hang on to your seats folks!

Hang on to your seats folks! This ride is going to get bumpy!

One who cares
0
Points
One who cares 09/22/09 - 06:24 am
0
0
I believe Betty Beard, FRED

I believe Betty Beard, FRED RUSSELL and any one else involed should be FIRED right now, today. Fred Russell is a crook and lordy knows woman chaser and whatever else you want to let run through your lilttle minds. This is a scam for a friend. Well guess what, I have family members that struggle everyday with finances and it is not because of fat body surgery.. Go on a diet, get your fat body out there and walk, exercise and do something for yourself instead of waiting on a HANDOUT. These people make me sick. WE are probably feeding all her chilin' free lunches, snacks and giving them school supplies, sounds like what this woman is waiting on. Betty Beard is a poor excuse for a Cimmissioner, GET OUT and take all your cronies with you. I work hard pay high insurance and don't eat things that will make me MORBID OBESE. get a life. Put the money back in the hands where it should be and let them hand it out better yet let them make repairs and upgrade the Maxwell House, it is pitiful and nasty. Enough said I got to go to a real job and make my own money to get real medical help that I need not wait on Betty to give it to me.

ispy4u
0
Points
ispy4u 09/22/09 - 06:33 am
0
0
Good for you retired,

Good for you retired, unfortunately every one is not as blessed as you are.

ColdBeerBoiledPeanuts
8341
Points
ColdBeerBoiledPeanuts 09/22/09 - 06:44 am
0
0
Betty Beard has become the

Betty Beard has become the female version of Marion Williams, Devisive, Controversial and working against whatever will benefit the area.

humbleopinion
0
Points
humbleopinion 09/22/09 - 06:45 am
0
0
Another issue is WHY did she

Another issue is WHY did she vote against the TEE center? This is obviously something good for Augusta.....Oh wait. THAT is why she voted against it.

WhippingPost
1
Points
WhippingPost 09/22/09 - 07:02 am
0
0
While many "don't see why

While many "don't see why not", a few are about to find out. Graft seems to be so common as to be invisible. "It can't be illegal, everyone seems okay with it".

Grasshopper
7
Points
Grasshopper 09/22/09 - 07:05 am
0
0
A group of pastors and

A group of pastors and activists will hold a news conference and rally in support of Commissioner Betty Beard at 5 p.m. today near the Lady Justice statue behind the Municipal Building at 530 Greene St..... Why are religious leaders rallying for unethical behavior?

concernednative
28
Points
concernednative 09/22/09 - 07:25 am
0
0
It was not taxpayer money.

It was not taxpayer money. It was a private donation. I would have preferred it went to a civic organanization rather than an individual but that's just my opinion. The bigger issue it the money should have been returned when the commission said so. Since it was wasn't Ms Beard contacted the developer and asked it she could donate the check that was going to be sent back to them. So she just got a donation from them and directed to the lady.

ripjones
2
Points
ripjones 09/22/09 - 07:29 am
0
0
Well, when more news came out

Well, when more news came out about this issue, I thought I might have to apologize for what I said earlier. After this story, I'm not going to have to apologize for anything. The benefactor was a family friend of Betty Beard. Ispy4u - retired is right about having to go to work. Every person that is not disabled, should be out working and benefitting society. Not sitting on your azz, and generationally collecting government hand-outs.

lifelongresidient
0
Points
lifelongresidient 09/22/09 - 07:35 am
0
0
retired carpenter, i agree,

retired carpenter, i agree, from what is being written her being morbidly obese is not based on a genetic, endocrine/glandular or metobolic condition. if this was the case then her bypass operation would have been covered under her insurance, so this leads me to believe tht her being morbidly obese may be due in some or all part of her refusing to get up from the table, in addition to her lack of or her unwillingness to get at least a moderate amount of exercise....so i don't see where she should be entitled to personal gifts given to her by a sitting commissioner, although this could have be payback for ms. beard changing her vote on the TEE center...the one question i have is when this ocurred 4-5 years ago why didn't this irregularity come to lite at that time..my guess it was held back as a "chip" to be used "when needed" and if that is the case we need to find out who will benefit the most from the TEE center and the influence used over government officials to allow this now to come to lite. i hope now we as voters will wake up and elect "TRULY QUALIFIED" individuals to the commissions not just based on race, military, business or religious backrounds.

bettyboop
7
Points
bettyboop 09/22/09 - 07:37 am
0
0
"I personally cannot see why

"I personally cannot see why a person qualified for Ms Beard's position should have to ASK the City Administrator IF the money could go to help a private citizen. There is suppose to be the reason she is in that position.
Posted by cajunnana2000 on Tue Sep 22, 2009 3:38 AM".......Well for starters you dense and biased writer SHE does not have the right to give money to ANYONE for ANY reason without permission of the entire commission....got it? ...........If you who are defending this slight of hand trick can not see the wrong in it you are most definitley either racist or just plain stupid.

EdithPiaf
2
Points
EdithPiaf 09/22/09 - 07:38 am
0
0
Betty Beard has PLENTY of

Betty Beard has PLENTY of money. And I mean P-L-E-N-T-Y!! She should have used her own personal money to help the woman pay for her surgery. What's wrong with Betty Beard??

concernednative
28
Points
concernednative 09/22/09 - 08:00 am
0
0
persuseing, why would she be

persuseing, why would she be racist for saying Beard position is to help her constituents. I think the company said because the project was in her district they wanted her to disperse the funds. The commission needs to make that practice illegal. The commission could have fixed that problem by simply passing a resolution that all charitable donations would be handled by the full body. That way Beard couldn't call up a developer and say that money you wanted me to give out I want to give it to a lady for surgery. Under current guidelines it maybe look bad but the practice isn't banned.

Brenda_G
1
Points
Brenda_G 09/22/09 - 08:02 am
0
0
Politicians, like babies

Politicians, like babies diapers, should be changed frequently and for the same reason. To have the spouse of a deceased commissioner placed in their position is outrageous. It even happens in the upper echelon of government. When a vacancy needs to be filled there should be a special election held so the people can have a say in their representation. That being said, the people seem to vote, not with their head, but with an agenda. How did the donation for 13 charities get circumvented to become a charity of one? The hubris of Betty Beard is astounding! I'd like to say Champ Walker is putting his two cents worth in, if only I could understand what he's saying. Twice I've listened and still don't know.........I can only guess. Good morning Grasshopper ;-) Know your question was probably rhetorical but I wonder the same.

Kapa18
0
Points
Kapa18 09/22/09 - 08:04 am
0
0
My understanding of a charity

My understanding of a charity is it must 501c qualified by the IRS. I think this is a borderline embezzlement crime and Ms. Beard should be charged with such. She's not ignorant, she knows the rules and the law, is she breaks them she must pay like anyone else.

justus4
103
Points
justus4 09/22/09 - 08:05 am
0
0
This is whats known as a
Unpublished

This is whats known as a "high tech lynching" and will not work. Where are the charges against Ol' Fry and his failed bribery attempt of local elected officials? Does he have relatives who work at the AWM and planned this change-the-subject approach to his illegal actions? Will a federal agency rather than the local yocals investigate ol' Fry's illegal actions? Will the minority community accept another in-your-face, high-tech-lynching of another innocent citizen railroaded through an unjust, dishonest, and corrupted legal process? Isn't Fred Russell's signature (or Finance Dept) the approving authority on the check and, thus the individual (s) who are LEGALLY responsible for the action? Why isn't HE the guy being written about? U guessed it. The R word. Any legal idiot knows this outcome, but lets see if the non-minority media can figure it out. And oh, where are the charges against ol' Fry and lets speculate on how much jail time he will get.

2tired2argueanymore
1
Points
2tired2argueanymore 09/22/09 - 08:05 am
0
0
Looks like a good lawsuit for

Looks like a good lawsuit for the rest of the city employees that need some type of operation and can't get insurance to pay for it. Perhaps everyone should call Betty and let her know if you have problems getting the insurance to pay for something. If you are going to make special concessions for one employee and use money that really wasn't yours you should do the same for the rest. You guys keep voting these ignorant %^$ in office.

ONLY THE TRUTH
2
Points
ONLY THE TRUTH 09/22/09 - 08:06 am
0
0
If Betty Beard was white

If Betty Beard was white would the ministers plan a rally? The answer tells the story.

ColdBeerBoiledPeanuts
8341
Points
ColdBeerBoiledPeanuts 09/22/09 - 08:10 am
0
0
I see the SCLC has learned a

I see the SCLC has learned a new word. Recuse and is using it in in this form. "The RCSO should recuse themselves from investigating Betty Beard." Would someone hand those people a dictionary! If they are rallying someone must be guilty, they rarely rally behind an innocent person!!

R2
0
Points
R2 09/22/09 - 08:12 am
0
0
I worked with a young white

I worked with a young white woman that was a maybe 20-30pds ( and I don't think it was that much) over weight and her insurance co paid for gastric surgery. Some people( hand) have been approved simply because they wanted it for cosmetic reasons. The money was Maxwells' to give to anyone it desired.

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