ATLANTA (CN) – A former deputy county manager claims she was fired, and a chief investigative officer claims she was demoted, for exposing fraud, sexual misconduct and mismanagement of Fulton County funds. Gwendolyn Warren and Maria Colon filed separate complaints against Fulton County.
Both complaints in Fulton County Superior Court name Fulton County as the only defendant.
The women say the story began when Zachary Williams became Fulton County manager in 2008. Warren, who had worked under Williams in Broward County, Fla., was hired as a deputy county manager shortly thereafter.
Warren, partly due to Williams’ recommendation, established an Office of Professional Standards, to “allow employees to report inefficiency or malfeasance in a ‘whistleblower’ concept,” according to her complaint.
The office was opened in 2009, and Colon was hired as its chief investigative officer with the responsibility of running the office. Colon, who had worked in Broward County in a similar capacity, was recommended for the job by Williams and Warren.
Reports of “alleged fraud, waste and abuse within Fulton County” came pouring in, and Colon, who investigated the allegations, did “uncover fraud, waste, and abuse as well as violations of state law and county rules and regulations,” she says. She reported her discoveries to Williams and Warren.
In Colon’s official report, she wrote that Stevie Everson, a transportation coordinator for the Fulton County Department of Human Services, used his position to “solicit sexual favors from at least one job applicant,” according to her Superior Court complaint.
Colon and Warren uncovered, and reported, a scheme in which county employees “had willfully and intentionally misappropriated county funds, and diverted them to their own private wedding-planning company called ‘Exquisite Events,'” according to the complaint.
But the women say the Fulton County Commission, asked the office to stop its investigation once they got wind of the report.
Commissioner Emma Darnell allegedly told Williams, in a veiled reference to his recent employment in Florida, “at Fulton County, we don’t investigate ourselves.” Williams, in turn, discouraged Warren and Colon from continuing their investigation, telling Warren that one of the owners of the wedding planning business had ties to Commissioner Nancy Boxill, according to the complaint.
Williams told Warren and Colon “not to put anything in writing” and to stop the investigation until after the November 2010 elections because “it could get too political,” the women allege.
But Warren says she insisted upon delivering the report to the district attorney, despite Williams’ objection. According to the complaint, during an executive meeting of the commission, Williams was told to fire Warren. Warren was fired on July 7 this year. On July 20, Williams, at the commission’s request, shut down the office and demoted Colon to a research analyst.
Both women seek damages for retaliation and whistleblowing violations. Both are represented by A. Lee Parks and James E. Raford Jr. with Parks, Chesin & Walbert.