6 to 9 years later, still no trial date for alleged $40K theft from ATL stadium authority
Two years ago, Davetta Johnson Mitchell was accused of stealing $40,000 of public money six to nine years ago.
When she will go to trial – if ever – is anybody’s guess.
Last week marked the second anniversary of the former Atlanta City Council member’s indictment for writing allegedly unauthorized checks to herself when she ran the Atlanta-Fulton County Recreation Authority. She denies that the payments were improper.
The indictment charges Mitchell wrote herself seven checks between 2000 and 2003, much of it ostensibly for unused leave, for amounts that she was not entitled to. Prosecutors gave her the benefit of the doubt and did not charge her for two checks written earlier, assistant district attorney Kellie Hill said at a May 1 court hearing.
“I would not go on the record to say they were not a crime,” Hill said that day. “But we gave her the benefit of the doubt because there was some ambiguity in the contract. … When the contract was renewed, there was specific language placed in the contract that prohibited exactly what we have in this indictment.”
Mitchell was a $22,500-a-year city council member in 1997 when Mayor Bill Campbell had her appointed as executive director of the authority. She left the job in 2003 when her second contract expired.
Will Fisher, the authority’s interim executive director, ran across the payments to Mitchell while checking on something else.
Fisher found that Mitchell had already been paid 90 percent of her $118,000 salary by July 2003. The largest check, and most recent, had been written a couple months earlier for $23,785.
“We were in shock,” then-authority chairman Tommy Dortch said in grand jury testimony read into the record May 1. Mitchell’s employment contract had expired July 31, 2003, and he was negotiating a consulting contract for Mitchell when the checks were uncovered.
Prosecutors could not seek an indictment for almost four years after that because the authority’s record keeping under Mitchell was a shambles, Hill said.
“There was also no record keeping, at least not in organized fashion,” Hill said in court.
Investigators removed at least 10 banker’s boxes of papers from the authority’s offices and had to reassemble and analyze them to understand the payments.
“They were not organized in any way,” Hill said. “They were simply boxes of paper.”
Mitchell’s attorney contends at least one other person, including Mitchell’s assistant Sabrina Hunter and the authority’s accountant, was aware of each check written by Mitchell.
But, prosecutors say, those people were not in a position to call Mitchell out.
“The executive director was in complete charge,” Hill said. “She had all the hiring and the firing power. She had two employees that worked with her. One was Sabrina Hunter and the other was the accountant that she was responsible for hiring and firing, and also saying, ‘I need this check.’ ”
In May 2003, when Mitchell paid herself for unused leave, she also wrote Hunter a check for more than $11,000 in unused leave.
The case’s somewhat glacial pace has been slowed by Mitchell’s attempts to quash the indictment. Trial was re-scheduled for June 2008 when Mitchell hired a new attorney, Avis Hornsby. In October, Hornsby filed a motion contending the four-year statute of limitations had expired when DA Paul Howard took the case to a grand jury for indictment.
A judge delved into that argument but rejected it in May. There’s been no court action since then.