Fani Willis Axed Employee Who Blew Whistle on Misuse of Federal Funds

Embattled Georgia DA has a 'pattern' of 'ethical violations, abuse of power' and misusing funds, whistleblower says

January 31, 2024

Fani Willis may have fired the employee who warned her about mishandling federal funds. But she didn't deny her allegations.

Less than a year into her tenure as Fulton County district attorney, in 2021, Willis met with Amanda Timpson, an employee in the district attorney's office responsible for giving nonviolent juvenile offenders "alternatives to the juvenile court system." During their conversation, a recording of which was reviewed by the Washington Free Beacon, Timpson claimed to Willis that she had been demoted after attempting to stop a top Willis campaign aide from misusing federal grant money meant for a youth gang prevention initiative.

According to Timpson, the aide, Michael Cuffee, planned to use part of a $488,000 federal grant—earmarked for the creation of a Center of Youth Empowerment and Gang Prevention—to pay for "swag," computers, and travel.

"He wanted to do things with grants that were impossible, and I kept telling him, like, 'We can't do that,'" Timpson told Willis in a Nov. 19, 2021, meeting. "He told everybody … 'We're going to get MacBooks, we're going to get swag, we're going to use it for travel.' I said, 'You cannot do that, it's a very, very specific grant.'"

"I respect that is your assessment," Willis responded. "And I'm not saying that your assessment is wrong."

Later in the conversation, Willis apologized to Timpson, and said Cuffee had "failed" her administration.

Less than two months later, Willis abruptly terminated Timpson and had her escorted out of her office by seven armed investigators, according to Timpson. When Timpson filed a whistleblower complaint the following year that alleged wrongful termination, Willis's office issued a statement describing Timpson as a "holdover from the prior administration" who was terminated because of her "failure to meet the standards of the new administration."

Timpson's experience sheds further light on how Willis—who campaigned on the promise of restoring "integrity" to the district attorney's office—does business. The Democrat has come under fire amid revelations that she tapped her lover, Nathan Wade, to handle the office's racketeering case against former president Donald Trump. Willis is also alleged to have misappropriated taxpayer funds to facilitate her affair with Wade, a married man with scant prosecutorial experience.

To Timpson, these twin incidents demonstrate "a pattern" in Willis's conduct.

"My case and Nathan Wade's case are very similar when you break them down point by point," Timpson told the Free Beacon. "Ethical violations, abuse of power, and the misuse of county, state, and federal funds."

Timpson, who joined the Fulton County District Attorney's Office as Director of Gang Prevention and Intervention in 2018, was hopeful that Willis would take the office in a new direction. In December 2020, Willis named Timpson to her 2021 Executive Leadership Team, a select group of employees tasked with playing "a critical role of changing and rebranding the culture in [the district attorney's] office."

Timpson first got the sense that something was awry shortly after Willis assigned Cuffee to serve as Timpson's direct manager. By March 2021, Timpson said, Cuffee planned to use part of a $488,000 federal grant—earmarked for the creation of a Center of Youth Empowerment and Gang Prevention—to pay for "swag," computers, and travel. Instead of heeding Timpson's warnings that his plan was illegal, Cuffee claimed the purchases were part of Willis's "vision." And in June 2021, Cuffee removed Timpson from the gang prevention program.

Cuffee disputed Timpson’s version of events during an interview with the Free Beacon on Tuesday. He acknowledged that he had discussions with her about purchasing computers for the Center of Youth Empowerment and Gang Prevention. But Cuffee said he was proposing to pull dollars from a different fund to finance the purchase.

"This is just a money grab for Timpson," said Cuffee, who told the Free Beacon he left Willis's office in December 2021 for "personal" reasons. "She can do what she needs to do."

In July 2021, Timpson discovered that several out-of-state students were participating in a federally funded program for middle-schoolers from Atlanta and Fulton County public schools. The Free Beacon confirmed that a public school student from Wisconsin attended Willis's Junior District Attorney program in July 2021.

Timpson met with Willis on July 26, 2021, to discuss her concerns about the gang prevention grant and the Junior DA program. But Willis wanted to hear nothing of it, Timpson said.

"I wanted to make sure she knew because I didn't want any scandal to be related to her. She immediately cut me off in the middle of my sentence and demoted me from the director of juvenile diversion to a file clerk."

Now wary of Willis's approach, Timpson brought a recorder with her the second time she warned her boss about alleged financial malfeasance in the office.

"I knew it was me against the entire office," Timpson said. "If I didn't get any hard evidence about what I was saying, everyone was just going to write me off."

During their Nov. 19, 2021, meeting, Timpson told Willis about Cuffee's stated plans to spend federal funds on computers and other ineligible expenses.

Documents reviewed by the Free Beacon confirm the grant in question was not meant to be spent on computers or other items. The Fulton County Center of Youth Empowerment and Gang Prevention never opened, and the county-owned building meant to house it is closed to the public, its gates padlocked.

Timpson followed up with Willis on Dec. 7, 2021, reiterating in an email concerns that federal funds were being misappropriated.

"I have been humiliated and retaliated against for doing the right thing," Timpson wrote, "trying to protect your administration from scandal and advocate for the youth I was charged with working on behalf of."

Willis never responded to the email. She fired Timpson on Jan. 14, 2022.

"As you know, you serve as an at-will employee with the Office of the Fulton County District Attorney," a signed letter from Willis to Timpson read. "Please accept this correspondence as notice that your services to this office are no longer needed."

Timpson says Willis had her escorted out of the office by seven armed investigators.

"I am 4'11" on my best day," Timpson told the Free Beacon. "Who is so scared of me that you have to walk me out of the building by seven armed investigators? I've never had a warning about any negative behavior that would warrant someone feeling threatened by me."

Timpson in August 2022 filed a whistleblower complaint in Fulton County Superior Court, seeking damages for lost wages. The case is in discovery.

After firing Timpson, Willis's office in November 2022 used $1,245 of federal funds from the gang prevention grant to purchase items from Dell, county spending records show.

It was not the first time Willis dipped into federal grants to purchase computers and finance travel.

In 2020, the DA's office received a $2 million grant from the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative to help clear the Atlanta Police Department's rape kit backlog. Willis's office has since pulled nearly $13,000 from the grant to purchase computers and spent an additional $27,000 on airfare, hotels, and car rentals, according to Fulton County records.

Willis's office has also purchased computers using grants from the Georgia Innocence Project, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Program, and federal funds appropriated under the Violence Against Women Act, according to spending records. It's not clear if computers are allowable expenditures in any of the grants.

The DA's office issued the statement dismissing Timpson as a "holdover from the prior administration" after Timpson filed her suits against Willis and the office. Timpson, who has since secured letters of recommendation from more than 20 associates, including Fulton County assistant district attorney Natalie Zellner, said Willis's statement made it hard for her to find employment.

"It was, honestly, tormenting," Timpson said. "Someone in a position of power is saying this about me and I have no way to combat it."

Timpson's attorneys in November dropped a libel and defamation suit against Willis because the district attorney, as an elected official, has vast protections from such claims. But Timpson plans to file a similar suit against the Fulton County District Attorney's Office in the near future.

Neither Willis nor the Fulton County District Attorney's Office responded to a request for comment.