News & Views » News Feature

Lawsuit: Mayor Shirley Franklin's daughter lied about finances

by

2 comments

When Kai Franklin Graham, daughter of Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, goes on trial next month on civil charges, the case could shed light on allegations that a recent criminal investigation only hinted at.

The plaintiff, Free At Last Bail Bonds, is suing Graham in an attempt to hold her accountable for $185,000 she owes the company after her then-husband jumped bond and became a fugitive. Kai Franklin Graham filed for bankruptcy in 2005 in an attempt to avoid paying the bond.

The reason she shouldn't be allowed to use the federal bankruptcy statute to free herself from the debt? According to Free At Last, Graham deceived both the bondsman and the bankruptcy court about her financial situation and the whereabouts of Tremayne "Kiki" Graham, whom she divorced the year after he went on the lam.

Documents filed in the case allege that Kai Franklin Graham "blatantly lied under oath" and tried to hide contentious sources of income.

In court documents, Graham's attorney, James Dearing, denied Free At Last's allegations. Dearing didn't return CL's phone calls seeking comment.

"Defendant was unexpectedly faced with the task of handling financial matters that, before her former husband's arrest, had not been her responsibility," a document filed in federal bankruptcy court states. "Defendant was forced to pay debts in whatever manner was legal and effective."

In April 2004, Tremayne Graham was indicted in federal court in Greenville, S.C., on cocaine and money laundering charges. The indictment alleged that the defendant, who lived with his then-wife in Marietta, was running hundreds of kilos of cocaine from wholesalers in Atlanta and L.A. to dealers in Greenville, where he'd gone to college.

The following month, Kai Franklin Graham showed up at Free At Last. She wanted the company to bail out her husband, who was jailed on a $300,000 bond. The company asked that Graham sign a guarantee stating that if her husband were to flee, she'd be responsible for paying the bond. She agreed.

After Tremayne Graham was released, he was ordered to wear an ankle monitor and remain under house arrest. Four months later, in September 2004, his co-defendant Ulysses Hackett and Hackett's girlfriend, Misty Carter, were shot dead in Carter's Highland Avenue townhouse. Law enforcement suspected that Hackett was killed because he'd agreed to share information with federal agents.

In late October 2004 – days before his trial was scheduled to begin – Tremayne Graham cut his ankle monitor and went on the run.

What happened next is the subject of debate, but one thing is undisputed: In the month after Tremayne Graham became a federal fugitive, Kai Franklin Graham visited several post offices and obtained 14 money orders for $1,000 each. She did so to evade the IRS, which flags any cash transaction totaling $10,000 or more. She used the money orders to pay her $5,000 monthly mortgage.

By March 2005, Tremayne Graham still hadn't been caught, and Free At Last was ordered to pay the court the entire $300,000 bond. Kai Franklin Graham would have been required to reimburse the bonding company. Instead, she filed for bankruptcy. According to her filing, she was jobless and relying on a $2,000 monthly contribution from relatives and friends. She claimed she hadn't heard from her husband since the day he jumped bond, and she filed for divorce on the grounds of "abandonment."

The divorce was finalized in May 2005. The following month, a bounty hunter hired by Free At Last tracked down Tremayne Graham in L.A. The company was relieved of some, though not all, of the bond. It ended up paying nearly $150,000.

Five months later, Free At Last filed suit against Kai Franklin Graham in bankruptcy court, seeking the $150,000, plus $35,000 in attorney fees.

According to documents filed by Free At Last, the allegedly destitute Graham was living a "lavish lifestyle" in the year following her bankruptcy filing. Using various credit cards, she charged – and paid off – $1,033 in designer clothes at high-end London boutique Net-A-Porter, a $921 Delta Air Lines ticket, an $868 tab at the Ritz-Carlton New York, an $825 bill at the nightclub Whiskey Peach in Midtown, and a $2,850 Chanel handbag from Neiman Marcus.

Graham's attorney, Dearing, responded with a document that stated: "Her use of the credit cards was not excessive, was for the use of her reasonable living expenses and was paid through gifts from family and friends."

A year later, in April 2007, another set of allegations arose suggesting that Graham had more money than she admitted. During Tremayne Graham's sentencing in federal court, two of his co-defendants – Scott King and Eric Rivera –testified that Tremayne Graham maintained regular contact with Kai Franklin Graham after he became a fugitive, and that he had Rivera deliver tens of thousands of dollars to her. Rivera testified that on one occasion, Tremayne Graham arranged for him to meet Kai Franklin Graham outside an Atlanta hotel, where she'd be arriving in her Lincoln Navigator.

"I was on the phone with [Tremayne Graham] when I saw the Navigator pull into a circle-like thing," Rivera testified. "I had [$20,000] in a bag and I said 'What's up' to her. Then I dropped it in the passenger seat, and she left."

EIGHT MONTHS AFTER the testimony, Kai Franklin Graham pleaded guilty in federal court to making "structured financial payments." The federal charge stemmed from the money orders she obtained in the weeks after her then-husband jumped bond. As part of her plea agreement, she agreed to cooperate in the ongoing investigation into Tremayne Graham, who'd by then been identified as a suspect in the Atlanta double-homicide. (He hasn't been charged in that crime.) She received three years probation.

At her plea hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Moore said: "The government could show, if required to at trial, that she assisted her husband in structuring other transactions on other dates and that on a couple of occasions she received drug money from her husband's associates while he was fleeing."

Through her attorney, Graham denied that the cash she used for the money orders came from her then-husband. In an affidavit, she stated that the cash came from her father, David Franklin, who in late 2004 gave her $22,000 that he'd been keeping for her. She allegedly failed to disclose the money to bankruptcy officials when she was required to list all gifts she received that year.

On Oct. 9, attorneys for both sides gathered at a pre-trial conference. Cameron McCord, representing Free At Last, said she might depose King and Rivera. Both men are in the witness protection program in federal prison, however, making the depositions difficult. David Franklin, who Free At Last anticipated calling as a witness, passed away last month.

McCord also said a negotiation between the two parties isn't likely: "We've talked about it many times. I just think we're too far apart."

Dearing agreed the case should be resolved by a jury. Judge Mary Grace Diehl set the trial for Nov. 17.

Comments (2)

Showing 1-2 of 2

Add a comment
 

Add a comment