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Fischer, TARC failed employees, consumers amid Ferdinand Risco sexual harassment scandal, scathing report reveals

Published: May. 12, 2021 at 11:48 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - An independent report states Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer and the Transit Authority of River City (TARC) dropped the ball when hiring and later promoting former Director Ferdinand Risco.

The new report conducted by David Beyer, a former FBI agent and attorney, was commissioned by Louisville’s Metro Council’s Government Accountability Committee, whose members didn’t want to rely on TARC’s own investigation.

There were glaring differences between the two reports.

To one of Risco’s alleged victims who worked with him in Atlanta, Georgia, the news didn’t surprise her.

“I hope that he is never able to do this again,” she told WAVE 3 News. “Anywhere.”

The woman, who wished not to be identified worked with Risco at MARTA, Atlanta’s transit system. She was one of several women WAVE 3 News Troubleshooters found through the course of exclusive investigations. Those reports exposed the red flags that existed in Atlanta prior to Risco’s hiring in Louisville.

Beyer was also able to speak with several other alleged victims from MARTA who recounted the same type of sexual, “predatory” behavior he was accused of while working for TARC.

Beyer’s report stated Fischer’s office and TARC did little to vet him. The report also states that Fischer himself ignored warnings before he promoted Risco to TARC executive director.

“At no time during the initial hiring process was a formal background investigation conducted by anyone involved in the hiring process,” Beyer wrote. “Had a thorough background investigation been conducted, it is quite likely that sufficient negative information would have been developed to prevent this calamity from ever occurring.”

He added that the pain of any victims who suffered through the abuse in Louisville could have been spared.

The findings angered Council Member Brent Ackerson.

“It’s pathetic,” Ackerson said. “Who doesn’t do a background check on people they’re hiring?”

Beyer’s report also directly contradicts what was in TARC’s own investigative internal report on the director who was appointed by Fischer. For example, Beyer’s report quotes TARC’s findings stating the former director’s “vetting including speaking to the executive director at MARTA for any indications of problems with the candidate.” But that same former director, Barry Barker told Beyer he “had not personally contacted anyone at MARTA prior to hiring Risco.” Barker sticks to that statement during three separate interviews by Beyer.

The investigator didn’t stop there. He also reached out to MARTA to verify. Elizabeth O’Neill, MARTA’s current General Counsel, corroborated Baker’s statements to Beyer.

“O’Neill was never contacted by anyone from TARC prior to Risco being hired by TARC,” the report states. “She did state that she had a happenstance meeting with Barry Barker and Risco after Risco had been hired by TARC.”

That chance encounter at an airport O’Neill said, had nothing to do with Risco’s vetting.

“O’Neill exchanged small talk with Barker and Risco,” the report continues. “O’Neill was not asked at this time or any other time for her opinion about Risco. She also stated that she would have been the only female GM/CEO at MARTA with whom Barker would have spoken as she replaced a male CEO.”

Beyer was contracted after TARC launched its internal investigation and was applauded by Fischer who has the final say and power to appoint TARC’s executive director. Fischer initiated TARC’s investigation.

Councilman Brent Ackerson fought for an independent investigation, not trusting TARC and the mayor’s own reporting.

“The agency that’s being investigated is investigating themselves,” Ackerson said. “That is the functional equivalent of the fox guarding the chicken coop.”

He added that the attorneys first sanctioned by Fischer to investigate Risco became counsel for TARC.

“The attorneys that started off representing the city of Louisville investigating the matter jumped ship with the city’s permission and became the TARC attorneys... The independent investigation gives you a truly independent finding,” Ackerson added. “It doesn’t gloss over certain things, it doesn’t manipulate the data to come out different ways.”

That also raised flags for Ackerson and several other council members who also voted for an independent investigation the mayor and TARC had nothing to do with.

One of the authors of TARC’s report is Matt Golden, who Fischer recently appointed as Louisville’s public services director, despite not having any public safety experience. The appointment also raised questions for several council members.

The report also found that 14 letters were sent to Fischer asking him to look elsewhere to fill that spot. Those letters don’t claim sexual misbehavior but do state a lack of compassion for those who use TARC and care for their employees.

Fischer had also received a letter from TARC’s former Union President Theo Hamilton. WAVE 3 News Troubleshooters obtained a copy of the letter last year.

Hamilton also urged the mayor to conduct a nationwide search instead of hiring Risco.

Beyer’s report states that those letters were ignored by Fischer. Hamilton also stated no one ever called him about the letter or his concerns. The report also states that members of TARC’s senior leadership team were aware of Risco’s troubling behavior — both the sexual harassment and financial improprieties — but did nothing with the information.

Risco’s alleged Atlanta victim is proud of the women who came forward in Louisville and offered them words of encouragement.

“I would say to you to feel empowered, and I would say to continue to be strong and continue to fight for the civil rights of everybody,” she stated.

She added that she hopes Louisville learned a lesson and that others know employees should never be treated the way Risco treated them.

The deputy director of communications for Fischer provided the following statement in response to the new report and questions about the 14 letters Beyer says Fischer ignored:

“The Mayor received the latest report today, and he and his team are reviewing it in detail. If it contains new information, his office will take any necessary steps to ensure a quality transit system, which is critical to our city. As the Mayor said last year, there were serious and troubling problems in TARC’s administration offices, including financial wrongdoings and behavior against women that should never be tolerated. That’s why as these allegations came to light, the Mayor initiated a thorough investigation and took action to appoint interim leadership and launch a National search for a permanent director. The Mayor is deeply appreciative of the review completed by Mr. Beyer, and thanks the TARC leadership, Board and employees for their commitment to implementing any needed changes.”

WAVE 3 News also reached out to Golden for his thoughts and response. If he provides a statement this story will be updated.

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