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P-cards have a long history of scandal, abuse across metro

Government purchasing cards have probably produced more scandals in state and local government than anything else over the past decade.

Channel 2 investigative reporter Richard Belcher has covered many of those cases and he said it's not yet clear if federal authorities will get serious about the city of Atlanta’s apparent abuses.

Federal authorities have already issued a grand jury subpoena for former Mayor Kasim Reed's p-card records as well as those of three other former city employees.

Belcher asked a former federal prosecutor when misspending crosses the line into criminal behavior.

Former prosecutor Jeff Brickman was the attorney for DeKalb County Commissioner Elaine Boyer when her p-card spending attracted the attention of federal authorities . Among her abuses, was paying for a family vacation with her county card.

Boyer ultimately pleaded guilty to theft involving money she paid to a purported consultant, but Brickman said there's no question prosecutors are willing to pursue p-card abuses alone.

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“That's happened before. And if they believe that there have been purchases that are fraudulent and they believe are of sufficient quantity or quality, then they will certainly investigate it further,” Brickman said.  

Georgia Tech said Donna Gamble's p-card schemes cost the university more than $650,000 . But many of her 4,000 illegal purchases were very small.

“They bought steaks. They bought season tickets to Auburn University football games. They bought all kinds of paraphernalia for tailgating at Auburn football games,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Russell Phillips.

Both Donna Gamble and Michelle Harris continued their thefts for years.

“Personal car insurance, cellular phone bills, personal tuition at Georgia State University” were some of the things Assistant Attorney General Laura Pfister said were charged on their p-cards Both went to prison.

“If there's a pattern, it takes away the argument of, ‘Oh, my gosh, that was unintentional. It's a one-time thing. I want a mulligan,” Brickman said. 

Reed and his executive protection officers reimbursed the city for some but not all of the questionable purchases documented by Channel 2 Action News and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution . Belcher asked if that matters.

“If you reimbursed it, you don't necessarily get a pass,” Brickman said. 

About 10 years ago, state authorities tried to reduce temptation by cutting the number of American Express travel cards in circulation by nearly 90 percent.

The Channel 2 Action News / AJC investigation found there were fewer than 20 cards in circulation at City Hall.

George Zimmerman, unemployed, $2.5M in debt, gets public defender in latest legal battle

A judge in Seminole County, Florida, has granted George Zimmerman a public defender to represent him in his latest legal battle.

>> Read more trending news

Zimmerman told the judge that he’s indigent, unemployed and has $2.5 million in debt and liabilities, according to court documents.

Zimmerman is facing a misdemeanor stalking charge that was filed by the Seminole County State Attorney’s Office earlier this month.

A sheriff's report said an investigator, Dennis Warren, contacted Zimmerman in September on behalf of Michael Gasparro, who is making a documentary on Trayvon Martin. The series is being produced by rapper Jay-Z.

Zimmerman allegedly told Gasparro, "Help Dennis out and give him a heads up. I'm going to find him. And I'm bringing hell with me."

He allegedly texted Gasparro and said, "Dennis is a (expletive) who bothered my uncle in his home. Local or former law officer, he's well on his way to the inside of a gator as well. 10-4?"

WFTV legal analyst Bill Sheaffer said the indigent applications are rarely scrutinized by the court because they are done under oath.

“As long as you can show your liabilities outweigh your assets, you are maybe entitled to a public defender and you are maybe entitled to the cost of defense,” Sheaffer said.

Zimmerman is scheduled to be in court May 30.

Zimmerman was acquitted in 2013 of the 2012 shooting death of Martin, an unarmed teenager. of unarmed teen, Trayvon Martin.

Winning numbers drawn in 'Georgia FIVE Evening' game

ATLANTA (AP) _ The winning numbers in Wednesday evening's drawing of the Georgia Lottery's "Georgia FIVE Evening" game were:

7-3-9-5-9

(seven, three, nine, five, nine)

Winning numbers drawn in 'Cash 4 Evening' game

ATLANTA (AP) _ The winning numbers in Wednesday evening's drawing of the Georgia Lottery's "Cash 4 Evening" game were:

8-5-8-1

(eight, five, eight, one)

Winning numbers drawn in 'Cash 3 Evening' game

ATLANTA (AP) _ The winning numbers in Wednesday evening's drawing of the Georgia Lottery's "Cash 3 Evening" game were:

3-3-8

(three, three, eight)

Winning numbers drawn in '5 Card Cash' game

ATLANTA (AP) _ The winning numbers in Wednesday evening's drawing of the Georgia Lottery's "5 Card Cash" game were:

QH-5C-10C-4H-6H

(QH, 5C, 10C, 4H, 6H)

Teen says there was nothing she could have done to prevent crash that killed three

A teenager told Channel 2 Action News no matter how many times she goes over the tragic accident in her mind, there was nothing she could have done to prevent her SUV from hitting three pedestrians last year in Woodstock. 

Zoe Reardon's lawyer said when the crash happened, the three people who died were crossing a road in the dark near a concert. 

Some of the charges said Reardon failed to give warning by sounding her horn when necessary.

She told Channel 2 Action News she never saw the victims before the accident and said she was watching the road.

“I see my family’s hurt, my parents' hurt. I can only imagine their families’ hurt must be four times what we’re going through,” Zoe Reardon said.

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“I just can’t imagine their pain,” Zoe's father, Dan Reardon, said.

“I have so often wanted to reach out to them and tell them how sad I am,” Zoe's mother, Garnet Reardon, said.

Zoe Reardon told us she is a straight-A student about to graduate, and the road ahead includes a partial scholarship to Southern Methodist University, but her life and the lives of two other families changed forever on a dark road in Cherokee County the night of Sept. 9 when the SUV she was driving struck Kaitlin Hunt, her baby Riley, and Hunt family friend Kathleen Deming. All three died in the crash.

"I pray for the hearts, and I pray for their healing," Zoe Reardon said.

Records indicate Reardon,18, faces eight misdemeanor counts including second-degree homicide by vehicle charges alleging she "failed to exercise due care in operating a motor vehicle on Arnold Mill Road and engaged in the action of putting away her cellular telephone which distracted her." 

She said she was not putting her phone away at the time of the accident.

"I never saw anyone coming. I wasn't texting. I wasn't doing anything, just looking at the road. My eyes were on the road," Zoe Reardon said.

Cherokee County Solicitor General Jessica Moss told Channel 2 Action News the families of the victims are "doing as to be expected."

"It's clear from what they've indicated to us that they are seeking justice for their loved ones," Moss said.

Reardon's lawyer, Manny Arora, said she fully cooperated with investigators who had earlier assured her family they saw no basis for charges.

"No crosswalk and these people happen to be crossing, and she happened to be driving, and it's just tragic," Arora said.

"We've done everything that they've asked for. We gave them the phone," Dan Reardon said.

"The sheriff's office did an extensive investigation, and there was discussions both with the district's attorney office and my office before charges were filed," Moss said.

Arora acknowledged, consistent with one of the charges, that Reardon had texted her dad about dinner.

He said she was stopped in traffic elsewhere more than two minutes before the accident.

The Cherokee County Sheriff's Office said a review by the Cherokee Sheriff's Office, District Attorney's Office and Solicitor General's Office of all facts was the case closed and charges filed. 

Solicitor General Moss said she never told anyone there would be no charges.

Maker of Sweethearts candy message hearts, Necco Wafers sold for $18.83 million

The bankrupt maker of Necco Wafers, Sweethearts conversation hearts and other beloved American candies has a new owner.

>> Read more trending news 

The Ohio-based Spangler Candy Co. offered the winning bid of $18.83 million for the iconic New England Confectionery Co., the country’s oldest continuously operating candy company, at a federal bankruptcy auction in Boston Wednesday.

The acquisition ensures at least a short-term future for the candy maker better known as Necco.

Spangler Candy Co. and three other bidders all indicated they would keep Necco operating at its current location in Revere, just north of Boston, at least through the fall.

Spangler Candy Co. makes Dum Dums lollipops.

Interest in Necco has focused on its "sugar line" of chalky wafers and candy hearts. The fate of its chocolate Sky Bar and Clark bar remains unclear.

>> Related: 6 big name retailers who filed for bankruptcy in 2017

Necco filed for federal bankruptcy protection last month.

40,000 pounds of chicken feathers blocks freeway in Washington

Drowsy driving may have caused the driver of a semitrailer to hit a guardrail and roll his truck, dumping 40,000 pounds of chicken feathers onto Interstate 5 in Federal Way, Washington and causing a backup that stretched for miles.

Photos: Semi crash spills chicken feathers across I-5 (KIRO-TV)

The crash happened on northbound I-5 around 3:30 a.m. Wednesday. 

>> Read more trending news

Initially, four lanes were closed by the crash. All lanes were back open more than four hours later. At the height of the commute, traffic was backed up 17 miles. 

Washington State Department of Transportation crews had a big mess to clean up. Heavy equipment was brought in to scoop up mounds of feathers, which were heading to Canada for agricultural use, but some of the mess had to be cleaned up by hand.

Nine hours later, crews were still cleaning up feathers in the I-5 median.

There was also the matter of the rolled over semi. A heavy-duty tow truck had to be brought in to bring the crashed rig upright again and then tow it from the scene.

Guardrail repairs were also needed.

The driver did not hit any other vehicles and was not hurt, but the Washington State Patrol said he told troopers he felt drowsy before the crash. He also said he woke up when he hit the guardrail.

The driver is facing a negligent driving citation, but WSP says if someone had been hurt or killed in the crash, he would have faced a vehicular homicide or assault charge. 

The driver, his employer -- West Coast Reduction Ltd., out of Vancouver, B.C. -- or its insurance company will be billed for the guardrail damage and tow services, a trooper said.

More than $8M awarded to victim of cult in trafficking case

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - More than $8 million was awarded Wednesday to a woman who alleged that the spiritual leader of a cult forced her to work without pay for a decade.

U.S. District Judge Daniel Crabtree of Kansas wrote in the order that Royall Jenkins and his organization, The Value Creators, exploited Kendra Ross' vulnerability, "knowing that she was unfamiliar with the world outside the cult, had received no standard education, was constantly moved from place to place, and had no money." Ross alleged in the lawsuit that from the age of 11 until 2012, when she "gathered her courage and strength to escape," she was forced to work without pay in restaurants and as a maid, cook and childcare provider in Kansas City, Kansas; Atlanta; Dayton, Ohio; Newark, New Jersey; and New York City.

Crabtree said Jenkins and his group, formerly known as the United Nation of Islam, controlled Ross' romantic relationships, imposed strict discipline and that she became "severely malnourished" because of the treatment she received. Crabtree said Ross was led to "believe that if she did not continue to work for them, she would suffer serious harm." She has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, according to her lawsuit.

No attorney is listed for Jenkins, and he doesn't have a listed phone number. Jenkins was a member of the Nation of Islam until 1978 when he formed the separate United Nation of Islam after he said that "angels and/or scientists" abducted him and escorted him through the galaxy on a spaceship and instructed him on how to govern earth. He established a small community of followers and business in economically depressed areas. The group, which taught that black males were superior to women and men of other races, changed its name to The Value Creators after Ross escaped.

Ross' attorney, Betsy Hutson, said her client, whose location is being kept confidential, is "thrilled" and described the judgment as a "powerful tool for the anti-trafficking movement." Hutson said that there were "no chains but an immense amount of psychological damage." Hutson said the "next big challenge" is to collect on the settlement but adds there is reason to believe that the group has "significant properties."

"This has been a really long process," Hutson said. "It is a result of a lot of years of hard work. We see that she has made incredible progress, coming out of this cult and facing her perpetrators."

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