Judge moves Columbus Parks & Rec criminal case forward - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

Judge moves Columbus Parks & Rec criminal case forward

By Lindsey Connell - bio | email | Twitter

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) –  The criminal case within Columbus' Parks and Recreation Department is moving forward in the courts.

Three men have been charged with mishandling more $200,000. Police say they used a secret bank account and spent the money on what many thought was a city-run travel basketball team.

Former director Tony Adams, program specialist Herman Porter and William Fox were in court for a preliminary hearing Friday.

Columbus Police say Tony Adams and Herman Porter set up an illegal bank account at CB&T for five years, using the city's tax ID number to list it as a non-profit for their athletic program. According to investigators, no one in a position of authority knew about the account or gave authorization for it.

On the stand, a detective told the judge they can trace money directly from the Director of the East Marietta Basketball League William Fox's bank account to the hidden account they say Adams and Porter opened. Under East Marietta Basketball League falls the Georgia Blazers, the elite sports organization the men ran, including basketball, track and field and boxing.

Police say all of the money that was funneled illegal bank account should have gone to Columbus but the defense disagrees, saying it was never the city's money.

"It's not the city. It never touched a penny into their account. They didn't lose a penny on this, they didn't lose anything. The most important thing we keep losing in all of this is nobody got shorted on the basketball thing. The kids got to go play their tournaments. This is a very limited amount of money. We keep saying $200,000- spread it out over 6-7 years. It's preposterous that we're even here wasting tax payer time on this trial that's probably going to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars," said Manny Arora, one of Herman Porter's lawyers.

"The city acts through its employees and if its employees took possession of the money then that would be our argument and it is our contention that the evidence will show that more than Nike was involved," countered Chief Assistant District Attorney Alonza Whitaker.

Police say the money was spent on hotel rooms for the basketball team, coaches, recruiters and scouts as well as a TV, tow bill and plane ticket. Most of the transactions were cash, according to detectives, not leaving a paper trail.

When it comes to the money raised from the basketballs tournaments, police say half went to the city and the other half went into the secret bank account.

Police also testified that William Fox would submit invoices to the city for referee costs for tournaments, the city would pay him and then Fox would send a check back to the authorized back account.

Fox's attorney says he never knew how the money was being spent.

When it comes to the East Marietta Basketball tournaments held in Columbus, police say the city absorbed the entire cost and Tony Adams negotiated the tournaments.

Muscogee County Superior Court Judge John Allen dismissed the tax evasion charge against Adams and Porter because of the statute of limitations and found probable cause on their felony conspiracy charges.

Tony Adams has been terminated from his position with the city.

Herman Porter has been suspended without pay.

Next, the case will be heard by a Muscogee County Grand Jury.

Judge Allen is also considering a possible conflict of interest with attorney Stacey Jackson, one of the lawyers for Herman Porter. The state says Jackson represented all three clients at one time but Jackson says he only consulted with Tony Adams and Williams Fox when an open records request was filed against their basketball team when the case was still an administrative probe, not criminal. Allen did not rule on the conflict issue Friday.

Timeline

May 17A 27-page audit was completed by the city's internal auditor John Redmond. In question was $150,000 to fund a traveling Innovative Sports Program, which fields about 470 athletes in boys and girls basketball, boxing and track and field. The Georgia Blazers under-17 elite basketball team operated under the program and was coached by Parks and Recreation director Tony Adams. In the breakdown of the Innovative Sports Program, the auditor recommended that the city stop funding the travel teams and they be funded or sponsored by a non-governmental source.

May 25 - Out-of-town travel funded by the city was suspended and temporarily placed on hold by the Parks and Recreation Department.

May 28 - Columbus Mayor Jim Wetherington called for a police investigation into the city's parks department after an audit questioned its spending.

June 2 - Tony Adams hires defense attorney Stacey Jackson, who calls a news conference to say that "Mr. Adams never had a chance to respond to the audit."

June 8 - Tony Adams had until June 8th to respond to the findings in the audit during Columbus Council. Although Adams did not appear before council, with the support of City Manager Isaiah Hugley, Adams suggested breaking the team away from city funding and seeking private investment to continue the teams.

June 21- Attorney Stacey Jackson is now representing a total of nine parks employees. All of them except Adams work in the Recreational Services Division, which manages the city's recreation centers and operates the Innovative Sports Program.

Five of the nine full-time employees in Recreational Services — Margaret Brown, Shelley Stephens, Herman Porter, Gary Freeman and Tim Marshall — are being represented by Jackson.

June 22 - News leader 9 reports that Tony Adams and Herman Porter have hired a second attorney, Don Jackson of The Sports Group in Montgomery, AL.

July 3- A $500,000 pilot program to help at-risk youths was placed on hold by Mayor Jim Wetherington amid the Columbus Parks and Recreation audit and police investigation.

July 13 - Assistant city attorney Jaimie DeLoach said a city computer e-mail search for keywords "Nike" and "contract" produced an e-mail from August 16, 2006 from former Nike basketball marketing manager Don Crenshaw.

Attorney Stacey Jackson, who represents both Adams and Porter, claims that there was never a contract between the parks and recreation department and Nike.

July 14 - Parks and Recreation Director Tony Adams and Program Specialist Herman Porter were placed on administrative leave with pay pending the results of the investigation. Deputy City Manager Lisa Goodwin took over the day-to-day operations of the department.

July 15 - The investigation officially became "criminal" in nature.

July 30 - Herman Porter and Tony Adams had their coaching privileges revoked by the city manager's office.

August 24 - Tony Adams and Herman Porter were arrested and faced felony charges stemming from the police probe. They are suspended without pay.

August 24 - Stacey Jackson tells News Leader 9 he no longer represents Tony Adams.

September 14 - William Fox, the director of Basketball Operations at East Marietta Basketball Inc. turned himself in. 

September 28 - City fires Tony Adams. 

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