While serving on the county commission, Larry Langford arranged for Computer Help for Kids to receive nearly $800,000 in county money and frequently had the checks delivered directly to him, a county administrator testified today in the trial of former County Commissioner John Katopodis.
Katopodis, Langford and former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy founded the non-profit to refurbish used computers for children and build computer labs in poor communities. However, Katopodis used the charity's money for his own purposes, both political and personal, federal prosecutors said Monday.
“The defendant was trusted with almost one million taxpayer dollars, and he abused that trust by spending it on himself and his friends,” Assistant United States Attorney George Martin told the jury in opening arguments.
Federal prosecutors claim that Katopodis withdrew the charity’s money from ATMs at casinos and paid for trips for friends using Computer Help for Kids’ funds. Katopodis faces 97 counts of wire fraud and mail fraud.
Defense attorney Jim Parkman told the jury that the charity gave out between 5,000 and 10,000 computers “and attained high speed rail — it’s coming.”
One of Katopodis’ so-called non-profits, the Council of Cooperating Governments, was created in the early 1980s to explore options for high-speed rail between Birmingham and Atlanta. For almost three decades, high-speed rail projects have frequently floated in the public sphere, resulting in many studies but no bricks and mortar projects.
Parkman claimed the travel to casinos and overseas was related to Katopodis' charities.
“Every trip he took he thought was for the benefit of the community,” Parkman said of Katopodis’ trips to the Bahamas, among other places.
The government’s first witness, Gail Marcus, an administrative analyst at Jefferson County, said that she was responsible for receiving funding requests from non-profits and making sure those non-profits were paid as approved by the commission.
Marcus testified that one commissioner, Larry Langford, showed a “particular interest” in Computer Help for Kids. After Langford was elected in 2002, Computer Help for Kids began receiving frequent payments from the county. On several occasions Langford directed Marcus to deliver the checks directly to him, Marcus testified. On at least two occasions, Langford insisted Marcus speed up the process for delivering the non-profit its money.
The county trusted non-profits to report their expenses accurately, Marcus said. The county did not have a system to check for fraud, she said.
“Was there any way the county followed up on that?” Martin asked about the non-profit funding.
“We did not have anything set up to do that,” she said.
Testimony continues Tuesday.