The Newnan Times-Herald

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School officials threatened with RICO lawsuit


  • By Rebecca Leftwich
  • |
  • Aug. 15, 2018 - 11:13 PM

School officials threatened with RICO lawsuit

The Newnan Times-Herald

Updated 5:33 Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018

Coweta County Board of Education members agreed Tuesday to pursue a third-party investigation to counter what the board’s attorney said he believes are baseless allegations.

In a letter sent last week, school board members and Superintendent Steve Barker, the Coweta County School System and staff members were accused by local resident Henry “Hank” Ashmore of fraud, racketeering, conspiracy and bid-rigging – a violation of Georgia’s RICO Act  – during the process of awarding a more than $5 million contract for improvements, including installation of artificial turf, at three high school stadiums. 

RICO is short for racketeering influenced and corrupt organizations.

Board attorney Nathan Lee said he can find no evidence to support Ashmore’s claims.

“(He) accuses staff and members of the board of education of engaging in a conspiracy to commit crimes, specifically bid-rigging, the purpose of which was to ensure only one particular company could get the turf bid,” Lee said. “I’ve reviewed every document I can get my hands on. I can’t see any evidence whatsoever that the allegations have any merit.

“We would invite Mr. Ashmore – or his attorney – to present any evidence they have whatsoever of any criminal activity,” he added.

Superintendent Steve Barker and board of education members Frank Farmer, Winston Dowdell, Sue Brown, Larry Robertson, Amy Dees, Linda Menk and Beth Barnett received letters of intent to sue from Ashmore’s lawyer, Josh McKoon, dated Aug. 7. Barker’s was sent to his Jackson Street office, according to Lee, while the other letters were sent to board members’ residences.

McKoon is a Columbus attorney and former state senator who unsuccessfully campaigned for Georgia secretary of state earlier this year. 

Ashmore claims school officials manipulated the bid system to ensure a specific company – Deluxe Athletics – was selected to install artificial turf and renovate tracks at East Coweta, Newnan and Northgate high schools.

The board voted to pursue an outside investigation into the allegations on the advice of Lee, who said he will help find a third party to provide investigative services, most likely a lawyer with experience in examining such cases. The investigation will be funded by the school system.

Barker discussed the letter during Tuesday’s board meeting and said he believes the accusations require the board to follow a specific policy that outlines protocol for reporting and investigating fraud allegations.

“I believe you have no choice, in my opinion as superintendent, but to follow board policy,” Barker told board members.

Lee said Barker is known as a strict adherent of board policy, which is why he brought the fraud code to their attention.

“Dr. Barker preaches to his staff that the board of education has adopted policies and those policies need to be followed,” he said. “When these allegations were raised by Mr. Ashmore and his lawyer, Dr. Barker found that there was a policy involving alleged fraudulent or illegal conduct. He advised (school board members) it was there and wanted them to seek (my) counsel on how to proceed.”

Lee told board members at Tuesday’s meeting they could conduct an investigation, have someone conduct an investigation or take no action. The board agreed to pursue an outside investigation.

In addition to “injunctive relief to ensure the relevant parties will cease and desist from conspiring to flout Georgia’s competitive bidding statute,” Ashmore – through the letter from his lawyer – states his intention to recoup his attorney fees and collect triple actual damages as well as punitive damages.

“In the letter, Mr. Ashmore makes demands and threatens to sue if his demands are not met,” Barker said. “While this letter doesn’t name specific individuals, it is of a very serious nature and it appears to clearly target certain individuals.”

Barker said he is one of the ones implicated, and he intends to fight back.

“I take this letter and its contents as both a personal and a professional attack and will seek legal counsel relating to the possible damage to me,” he said.

Several board members expressed their intent to hire legal counsel and pursue personal damages – at their own expense – as well.

According to the letter, school officials have 30 days to settle with Ashmore before he files suit. The document also states that Ashmore directed McKoon to send a copy to Attorney General Chris Carr “in the event the attorney general decides… to proceed on behalf of the state to pursue these claims.”

“I’m happy to consider anything Mr. Ashmore or his attorney would like to provide me,” Lee told the board. “But based upon what I have seen, if he were to proceed with filing suit, the board would be on good grounds to pursue sanctions against Mr. Ashmore in the form of any attorney’s fees you may incur defending any such lawsuit.”


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Original story appears below

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Coweta County Board of Education members agreed Tuesday to pursue a third-party investigation to counter what the board’s attorney said he believes are baseless allegations.

The school board, the Coweta County School System and staff members have been accused by local resident Henry “Hank” Ashmore of fraud, racketeering, conspiracy and bid-rigging – a violation of Georgia’s RICO Act – during the process of awarding a more than $5 million contract for improvements at three high school stadiums.

Ashmore’s lawyer, Josh McKoon, sent a letter of intent to sue Aug. 8 on behalf of his client, who claims school officials manipulated the bid system to ensure a specific company – Deluxe Athletics – was selected to install artificial turf and renovate tracks at East Coweta, Newnan and Northgate high schools.

The board voted to pursue an outside investigation on the advice of board lawyer Nathan Lee, who said there is no basis for a lawsuit.

“I can’t see any evidence whatsoever that the allegations have any merit,” Lee said.

Superintendent Steve Barker discussed the letter during Tuesday’s board meeting and said he believes the accusations require the board to follow a specific policy that outlines fraud prevention protocol.

“I believe you have no choice, in my opinion as superintendent, but to follow board policy,” Barker told board members.

In addition to “injunctive relief to ensure the relevant parties will cease and desist from conspiring to flout Georgia’s competitive bidding statute,” Ashmore – through the letter from his lawyer – states his intention to recoup his attorney fees and collect triple actual damages as well as punitive damages.

“In the letter, Mr. Ashmore makes demands and threatens to sue if his demands are not met,” Barker said. “While this letter doesn’t name specific individuals, it is of a very serious nature and it appears to clearly target certain individuals.”

Barker said he is one of the ones implicated, and he intends to fight back.

“I take this letter and its contents as both a personal and a professional attack and will seek legal counsel relating to the possible damage to me,” he said.

Several board members expressed their intent to hire legal counsel and pursue personal damages as well.

According to the letter, school officials have 30 days to settle with Ashmore before he files suit.