Stacey Abrams's Nonprofit Worked To Purchase Multimillion-Dollar Properties Shortly Before It Sacked Employees

Twice-failed Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams / Getty Images
November 30, 2022

The New Georgia Project had $11 million in its investment account in August when it set out to pay $2.45 million in cash for a sprawling Atlanta compound. Less than two months later, the organization dismissed half its leadership staff, citing a lack of funds.

A series of internal documents and correspondences obtained by the Washington Free Beacon reveals the bizarre circumstances surrounding the real estate deal, which several parties close to the matter say are indicative of a leadership crisis within the Stacey Abrams-founded group. The deal was spearheaded by Erin Ferguson, a junior New Georgia Project staffer who in a group text urged senior leadership in late August to sign a letter of intent to purchase the two adjacent properties and swiftly pay a $30,000 non-refundable deposit.

But a former New Georgia Project senior executive told the Free Beacon that the rush to purchase the properties was strange, noting that the buildings needed at least $288,000 in repairs to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The group was already locked into a $15,000-per-month lease at its current office through 2025, the former senior executive said.

The real estate deal is the latest murky financial situation involving the New Georgia Project. The group, which was founded to register non-white voters and once helmed by Sen. Raphael Warnock (D., Ga.), missed the deadline to file required financial disclosures to the IRS. The Free Beacon reported this month that the group's top accountant was fired after claiming he was unable to work there out of fear of breaking the law.

According to an Aug. 26 letter of intent obtained by the Free Beacon, the New Georgia Project sought to purchase the properties from Global Resource Partners, LLC. But Global Resource Partners never owned the properties. A real estate agent representing the Sheet Metal Workers Building Association, which owns the compound, told the Free Beacon that Global Resource Partners went under contract to buy the properties for around $1.92 million during the same timeframe the LLC was ostensibly trying to sell the properties to the New Georgia Project.

The real estate agent was surprised to learn that Global Resource Partners was simultaneously trying to flip the properties for at least $530,000. He added that he couldn't recall hearing about the New Georgia Project until contacted by the Free Beacon on Nov. 21.

"It makes you wonder why someone would go so far, put something under contract, not close on it, and not tell you any good reason why they didn't do it," the real estate agent said. "They kept saying they had to go out of town. Well, a bank wire can be sent anywhere in the country."

The attempted purchase of two adjacent industrial properties, totaling over 22,000 square feet, collapsed in the final days of negotiations. Global Resource Partners, the real estate agent said, dropped out of the sale at the very last minute. The properties remain on the market with an asking price of $1.92 million.

While Abrams and Warnock are no longer affiliated with the New Georgia Project, the group and its affiliated New Georgia Project Action Fund worked to get the Democrats elected this cycle, with mixed results. Abrams lost her second gubernatorial bid by nearly 8 points, and Warnock is in a runoff battle with Republican challenger Herschel Walker after failing to earn 50 percent of the vote on Election Day.

An attorney for Global Resource Partners manager Haywood Smith, who is named in the Aug. 26 letter of intent, declined to arrange an interview between Smith and the Free Beacon.

"It's a lose, lose situation," Smith's attorney, Darryl Cohen, told the Free Beacon. "As much as I would love for him to speak with you, I can't because of perception or lack thereof."

Anthony Smith, a real estate agent based out of Columbus, Ga., confirmed to the Free Beacon that he represented Haywood Smith in the deal, which he said fell through. He declined to comment further.

Ferguson claimed in an Aug. 31 text to leadership that it took "some serious lobbying" to get Global Resource Partners to entertain the charity's offer. The seller, Ferguson added, had another offer for $2.8 million that they would move on if the New Georgia Project weren't "reasonably expedient."

Prior to his role in facilitating the property purchase, Ferguson was a canvasser for the New Georgia Project, making $23 per hour, the former executive said. Ferguson is not identified on the New Georgia Project's website as a member of the charity's senior leadership team.

Ferguson declined to comment.

Ferguson had support from other members of the New Georgia Project's leadership team, including CEO Kendra Cotton. On Aug. 3, Cotton said it would be wise to "borrow" from the charity's reserves to buy the properties in cash and then for the leadership team to immediately refinance the property and pay itself back.

Ferguson insisted that the New Georgia Project was taking an unnecessary risk by having its $11 million reserve account so heavily invested in stocks, the communications show. He urged his colleagues to liquidate a significant portion of the charity's stock holdings to purchase the properties, claiming it was a "very safe" investment that would protect the group against inflation and allow it to secure lines of credit.

"The numbers are compelling… every morning the market opens at 9Am we spend 11Million," Ferguson wrote in an Aug. 9 text. "Also we will have offers on this building for 3-4 Million the day we close."

Ferguson won his superiors over by Sept. 6, when he claimed the deal needed to be closed by the following day. New Georgia Project chairman Francys Johnson asked for the letter of intent to be sent over for review.

"This is all good news," Johnson said.

It's not clear if New Georgia Partners ever signed the letter of intent or submitted the $30,000 earnest money deposit to purchase the properties from Global Resource Partners. It's also not clear why Global Resource Partners dropped out of purchasing the properties at the last minute.

On Oct. 7, the New Georgia Project's director of human resources during a video conference fired its chief operations officer as well as its directors of design and digital marketing. The reason given was that the organization could no longer afford their salaries.

A spokeswoman for the New Georgia Project did not respond to a request for comment.