ATLANTA (AP) — A Georgia man hired to do job training for Fulton County failed to pay wages and expenses to trainees he hired, according to an investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution into David Gallemore and his Veterans Home & Business Services.
The workers were referred to Gallemore by WorkSource Fulton, a county job agency. Fulton County initially paid trainees $10 per hour in summer 2018, and provided space for the company in a health center conference room.
A DeKalb County businessman, Gallemore described his startup as a Fulton County-based national operation hiring 10,000 U.S. military veterans, with plans to expand into 100 new cities. The company was supposed to make appliance and home repairs for warranty companies, but workers describe begging for even partial pay.
"It almost broke me. It did break me," said Debra Bodden, a stay-at-home mother who had been eager to re-enter the workforce after eight years. "It was a nightmare."
Gallemore didn't respond to requests for comment. The chief financial officer for his company, Jackie Robinson, says the business had trouble paying workers because it hired too many at once.
Gallemore wore camouflage to business meetings and said he served as an officer in the U.S. Army, but military records show he was on active duty with the Army National Guard for fewer than six months.
By Christmas, trainees and repair technicians were begging Gallemore for their paychecks so they could keep their lights on or buy food, according to text messages provided by former employees.
County administrators declined repeated requests for specifics on how WorkSource Fulton chose Gallemore, whose contract was not put out for competitive bid. The agency was in tumult when it agreed to work with Gallemore, and since 2015 has returned more than $700,000 in federal funds meant to help displaced workers.
The county failed to follow its own rules for vetting the businessman, missing a paper trail including liens for unpaid taxes in two states; three personal bankruptcy filings in less than five years; an eviction from a downtown Atlanta office; a Texas federal court judgment for unpaid wages; a contempt of court ruling affirmed by the Georgia Supreme Court in a child support case; and more than $100,000 in unpaid federal taxes.
The location where Gallemore contracted to provide workers on-the-job experience is an abandoned commissary building at Fort McPherson, a shuttered U.S. Army base in south Atlanta.
Fulton County Manager Dick Anderson said the county isn't at fault for thousands of dollars in unpaid wages.
"It's trying to assign blame where blame isn't warranted," Anderson said. "We're not responsible as the government for small business performance in a program that's not focused on long-term employment."
Fulton County Commission Chairman Robb Pitts said he feels a "moral obligation" to fix what went wrong for workers, but stopped short of saying he would reimburse those who had not been paid.
"I will try to make them whole to the extent that we can," said Pitts.
Information from: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, http://www.ajc.com