BRADENTON, Fla. - A former Birmingham, Ala., City Council member and former Jefferson County commissioner was charged Friday with 97 counts of fraud in connection with the theft of $250,000 from Computer Help for Kids, a local charity created to provide refurbished computers to disadvantaged children.
Gregory John Katopodis, 61, now a resident of Boston, was arrested Friday before a federal indictment was unsealed, said U.S. attorney Alice Martin, who announced the charges along with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service.
"Katopodis apparently thought this was [his] charity, not CHK - Computer Help for Kids - as he used $250,000 of this charity's money to pay for personal trips, gifts, bills, and to make over 50 withdrawals from ATMs in or near casinos," Martin said in a statement. "We'll never know the good that money could have done the needy it was intended to benefit."
Katopodis, who was a member of the Birmingham City Council in the 1970s and a Jefferson County commissioner in the 1980s, was involved in founding Computer Help for Kids and controlled its finances and bank account, said Martin.
The mission of the charity was to repair used computers donated by area businesses and to distribute them to poor, needy, and disadvantaged children in Jefferson County to increase access to technology.
The charity was founded seven years ago by Katopodis and Larry Langford, who was then the mayor of Fairfield. Langford, who was not charged with any crime on Friday, reportedly resigned from the charity's board of directors after becoming a county commissioner in 2003. Langford is now mayor of Birmingham, the Jefferson County seat.
According to the U.S. attorney's office, the majority of the charity's funding from 2002 through 2007 came from the Jefferson County Commission and totaled $815,000. During that time, Katopodis was the only signatory on the charity's bank account and he refused others associated with the charity access to its records. The charity is now defunct.
Katopodis faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine up to $250,000 for each count. He testified before a federal grand jury about three weeks ago.
A federal grand jury is also investigating Jefferson County's sewer bond deals, which now have placed the county in a financial crisis.
Former Jefferson County commissioner Mary Buckelew last Tuesday pleaded guilty to lying to the grand jury about $4,000 in gifts and spa treatments she received from a Montgomery investment banker. Buckelew received the gifts during and after trips to New York during the sale of sewer bonds in 2002 and 2003.
Buckelew, 62, will be sentenced on Feb. 25.