Crawford Lewis case costs school district, in treasure and trust | www.myajc.com

20
Oct

Crawford Lewis case costs school district, in treasure and trust | www.myajc.com

At one point, former DeKalb County school Superintendent Crawford Lewis was depicted as a criminal mastermind in a scheme involving millions of dollars of taxpayer money.

Then, last week, prosecutors let him plead guilty to one misdemeanor count, reducing him to a bit player. His possible time behind bars dropped from decades to mere months, if that.

Former Dekalb County School Superintendent Crawford Lewis leaves the courtroom after pleading guilty to obstruction of a law enforcement officer, a misdemeanor, in Dekalb County Superior Court before Judge Cynthia Becker Wednesday, October 16, 2013. Lewis was in court with co-defendants, Pat Reid and Tony Pope.

The school district spent only $100,000 on Lewis’ criminal defense, capping the cost as part of his 2010 termination agreement. But the criminal case spilled over into a long-running lawsuit with roots in the construction program Lewis and his former co-defendants were accused of defrauding. The school district’s legal battle with former construction manager Heery International, Inc., which claimed false termination due to the alleged conspiracy, has cost the district around $18 million.

In the end, though, the biggest cost may not appear on a balance sheet. Prosecutors spent more than three years building their case against Lewis. That exceptionally long germination – experts say it typically takes a third as much time to go from indictment to trial – left suspicions marinating, sowing mistrust in Georgia’s third largest school system and opening the door to other woes, such as near loss of accreditation.

“The indictment and the ensuing leadership vacuum in the school system for all these years, it’s a very unpleasant chapter in DeKalb’s history,” said former school board member Nancy Jester. She was among six board members removed by Gov. Nathan Deal after the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools put the district on probation. SACS had complained of financial mismanagement and runaway legal expenses that sapped resources from classrooms.

via Crawford Lewis case costs school district, in treasure and trust | www.myajc.com.

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