ATLANTA — Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard used thousands in public funds for office parties, church donations and home security updates, according to a report by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published online Friday.
Howard spent $2,700 on security doors for his house, $4,450 on football tickets and $6,000 to a lawyers group that inducted him into its hall of fame, the newspaper reported. Between 2008 and 2012, the office spent some $344,000 in state forfeiture funds.
Howard on Friday read a statement defending the expenses. The state’s civil forfeiture law allows authorities to seize ill-gotten money and property during investigations.
“I and my staff believe that every expenditure made is clearly within the specified guidelines,” Howard said.
Howard said the home security enhancements were prompted by several threats against him.
Under the state forfeiture law, district attorneys are not compelled to report forfeiture expenses. The newspaper obtained reports under the state’s open records law.
Howard told the newspaper the purchases were part of his office’s innovative approach to crime prevention. He said the charity balls and the good works they funded and the relationships they fostered helped keep the city safe.
“A lot of people will say, ‘That’s not directly related to law enforcement.’ But I think that’s exactly what state forfeiture funds are made for,” Howard said, adding the spending was legal.
Georgia law says district attorneys can spend funds on “any and all necessary expenses for the operation of the office.” It does not say they have to spend them on prosecutions.
The newspaper noted that as Howard was spending the funds, he had complained to county commissioners that any cuts to his office could force him to lay off prosecutors.
Records showed funds were also used to purchase display cases for basketball shoes worn by his nephew, NBA star Dwight Howard.
William Perry, executive director of the government watchdog group Common Cause Georgia, told WSB-TV that voters should demand oversight.
“It’s shocking. I mean so many things on that list are well beyond anything that could benefit the taxpayers of Fulton County, much less stop crime in Fulton County,” Perry told the TV station.
The Journal-Constitution also requested records from other district attorneys and said it found most spent on items with a clear connection to fighting crime.
The Cobb district attorney’s office paid for specialized DNA testing, computer software, books and professional dues.
Expenses by DeKalb’s district attorney included $20,000 to the county rape crisis center and $16,000 for an event about crime against senior citizens. Meanwhile, DeKalb’s previous district attorney organized a $25,000 mentorship conference and luncheon for girls.
A spokeswoman for the former district attorney told the newspaper it was a training expense.
Gwinnett’s district attorney said he did not accept state forfeiture money to avoid conflicts of interests that could arise if his office relies on proceeds from the drug trade.