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Bishop Rings Up Big Legal Bill

Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.) paid $25,000 in legal fees to the Atlanta branch office of law firm Greenberg Traurig in mid-March, according to campaign finance reports.

According to a review of electronic Federal Election Commission records, the one-time disbursement is the only payment that Bishop’s campaign has made for legal services since at least 2001, the earliest year for which searchable electronic reports are available. Bishop was first elected to the House in 1992.

A spokeswoman for Bishop did not return multiple telephone messages left over several days, and Bishop’s chief of staff did not respond to a request for comment Monday about the March 10 payment to the law firm, which is listed as “Greenbery Traurig” in the finance report.

Columbus, Ga., City Councilwoman Evelyn Turner Pugh, who is listed as the campaign’s treasurer in FEC records, also did not return a telephone message Monday.

There is an ongoing state investigation of the Muscogee, Ga., County Marshal’s Office and its “Junior Marshal” program, which has received nearly $200,000 in federal funds in recent years via earmarks that Bishop sponsored. It is unclear whether Bishop’s recent legal expenditures are related.

According to a March 3 report in the Columbus (Ga.) Ledger-Enquirer, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation opened the probe after Muscogee County Marshal Gregory Countryman informed state officials that Bishop’s stepdaughter, Aayesha Reese, and her husband, Stephen Reese, worked for the program.

GBI spokesman John Bankhead could not be reached for comment Monday because Georgia state offices were closed for Confederate Memorial Day.

In an interview with the Associated Press on March 6, Bankhead said the state agency is conducting “a preliminary review to see whether there would be a violation of Georgia’s laws concerning a misappropriation of funds.”

The Ledger-Enquirer reported that Bishop’s stepdaughter and son-in-law earned about $15,000 in pre-tax dollars for their part-time work with the Junior Marshal program, which provides mentoring to middle school students.

Aayesha Reese worked for the program from October 2008 until February 2009, while Stephen Reese was employed from November 2007 until July 2008, according to the Ledger-Enquirer.

During the time that Stephen Reese worked for the program, the Ledger- Enquirer reported his salary was paid via direct deposit into a Columbus Bank and Trust Co. account in the name of Vivian Creighton Bishop, the House Member’s wife and clerk of the Columbus Municipal Court.

In an interview with the AP on March 6, Bishop said: “I have tried to be above that kind of innuendo.”

The Ledger-Enquirer also reported that Bishop said he had no knowledge that his stepdaughter or son-in-law were employed by the Junior Marshal program and that he issued a letter in mid-February to Countryman, advising that the marshal’s office curtail Aayesha Reese’s employment.

Bishop procured $117,000 for the Junior Marshal program in fiscal 2008 and $75,000 in the fiscal 2009 omnibus bill.

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