On the Paper Trail of a Pedophile, Part 3: How did he get those federal jobs?
The FBI conducted its first background check on John David Roy Atchison in May 1985, when he applied successfully for a position as Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Northern District of Georgia, in Atlanta. The full and detailed application packet is unremarkable, with the possible exception of a one-day arrest on innocuous charges, to be discussed in a later article. It is worth noting that Roy Atchison spent years moving around, both during college and after graduating from college. Many people move several times in their twenties, but the numerous moves—taking one job after another before he settled down in Birmingham, Ala.—meant that the FBI Director on May 2, 1985, had to direct SAC’s (Special Agents in Charge) in ten cities to check into and verify Atchison’s application.
As shown in the signed job application, when Atchison applied to the DOJ he had been an attorney with the General Services Administration in Atlanta since September 1983 and had lived in a rental duplex in Smyrna, Ga., since his marriage in 1983. In the background check, neighbors called them a nice quiet couple taking frequent trips on weekends but having few guests. No noise; no financial problems; the only tiny blot on his record a single account dispute with Continental Airlines. Moving, changing and traveling were a continuing pattern in his young adulthood, but not in ways to be picked up on by investigators.
He was born Aug. 28, 1954; his application memorandum is dated Apr. 25, 1985; so he became an AUSA at thirty. Not bad for an uncommitted student, school hopper and job hopper, but then these were the anti-egghead Reagan years. His father, a physician, was from Alabama, and his parents had settled in Gulfport, Miss., where Atchison graduated from high school.
The moves were numerous—at least eighteen times or eighteen residential addresses from September 1971, when he left his parents’ Gulfport home, to the time of his DOJ application.
Atchison finished high school in August 1971—high school grades not included in the application–and attended three universities, spending a year at the University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg (Sept. 1971-May 1972, GPA 2.43), and the next year at the University of South Alabama, Mobile (Sept. 1973-May 1974, GPA 2.44), before transferring again to the University of Florida, Gainesville, where he graduated with a B.S. in Business Administration.
He worked at a series of short-term jobs in college, including a few months in sales at the Stag-N-Drag in Gainesville Mall. Reason for leaving: “found better position,” i.e. six months as Acquisition Clerk at the U. of Florida Medical Center Library, in Gainesville. After the B.S., Atchison worked in sales from 1976 to 1978 at the Home Life Insurance Co. in New Orleans, then a month at the Ashcraft Corp. in Mobile, Ala.
So far, nothing remarkable in any sense–years of twenty-something drift, school transfers, a series of jobs, some obtained through relatives and acquaintances. Supervisors, if they remembered him, gave him high marks. Several small businesses had folded by time of application, the FBI notes; co-workers had moved; many supervisors, co-workers and professors did not remember Atchison. Bartholomew LaRocca, Atchison’s supervisor at Home Life Insurance, praised him and according to the FBI, “still maintains contact with the applicant [in 1985] and handles his insurance affairs.”
The other partner, Frank Freilder, Jr., was unavailable for interview by the FBI.
Five years after college, in September 1978, following a summer as construction supervisor for [a company] in Houston, Tex., Atchison enrolled in the M.B.A. program at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, attending UAT for three semesters, 1978-79 and summer 1979. While in B-school, Atchison secured a part-time appointment as a graduate research assistant for most of 1979. This was in a management institute funded by a federal grant, Atchison’s first stint on a government paycheck. The professor who supervised the program did not recall Atchison at the time of the background check. The FBI check notes that Atchison completed course work for the M.B.A. in 1979 but had two Incompletes (“I” grades) that had to be removed–he was admitted to candidacy for the M.B.A. in February 1981—and the interviewee assumes this is why he did not get the M.B.A. until May 10, 1981 (GPA 2.64).
At that time, he was enrolled at Samford University’s Cumberland School of Law in Birmingham, Ala., returning to the place where his family had roots. During the same year–the exact dates are inconsistently given–he also worked as a clerk at the Birmingham law firm of Starnes & Atchison, co-founded by a cousin, W. Michael Atchison. (Well-regarded local attorney Mike Atchison moved to another firm in 2010, and Starnes & Atchison changed its name; see later post.)
Roy Atchison got his J.D. at Cumberland School of Law in May 1982. He failed one course, Property I, in fall 1979, but re-took it fall 1981, got an A. Several Cumberland professors interviewed by the FBI in 1985 did not recall Atchison; professors who did remember him recommended him for a position of trust and confidence with the U.S. government. He graduated with a scholastic average of 1.81 on a three-point system, 85th in a class of 190. Prof. Howard Walthall, one faculty member who did recall Atchison, stated that he was a very good student and received a grade of C in Walthall’s Securities course, and recommended him for the AUSA position. Atchison took the LSAT three times, each time scoring in the 500s out of 800.
While commuting to Tuscaloosa for business school and then attending law school in Birmingham, Atchison was putting down roots in Birmingham. Neighbors interviewed in the background check corroborated in 1985 that Atchison had lived for five years on 13th Street South, in Birmingham, where he had bought a house and converted it into several apartments, occupying one himself.
The files do not elaborate on Atchison’s move from Birmingham to Georgia, or his later move from Georgia to the Northern District of Florida. The move from GSA office to prosecutor’s office, in Georgia, is summarized thus:
“Kathy Buono, Office of Regional Counsel [GSA], advised the applicant commenced employment with the Office of Regional Counsel on September 19, 1983, and terminated employment with same on May 11, 1985, in order to accept a position with the Office of the United States Attorney, Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta, Georgia. Records reveal [name redacted] Office of Regional Counsel, to be the applicant’s supervisor during the applicant’s period of employment with the [GSA]. Buono advised that [name redacted] is presently away from the Atlanta area, and could not be contacted for further comment concerning the applicant until mid-June, 1985. Buono could provide no further information identifiable with the applicant.”
The Georgia track record is otherwise scant, as at the time Atchison applied as AUSA, he was not listed as a member of the Atlanta Bar Association or the Georgia State Bar Association. His application does, however, list membership in the Alabama State Bar from September 1983 and in the Florida State Bar from June 1984. He had been the subject of a full background check for Secret Clearance by the GSA, 10-12-1983.
Between finishing law school in spring 1982 and starting at the GSA in fall 1983, Atchison worked for a brother-in-law, Steven P. Randall, at STR Petroleum Properties in Laurel, Miss. Atchison listed Randall, of Jackson, Miss., as a close personal associate for the background check. According to Randall, Atchison handled general legal matters March-September 1983. In applying to the DOJ, Atchison initially wrote down the STR Petroleum period as “self-employed,” a statement he later clarified/corrected for the Bureau. While handling legal work for Randall, Atchison simultaneously managed a 7-Eleven store in Madeira Beach, Fl., and was given a highly favorable reference by his Southland Corp. supervisor.
Atchison’s other references include a public defender in the Duval County, Fl., office; a friend from the Home Life Insurance Co. days, Royce Blanchard, who is active in New Orleans politics; and two law school classmates, one being Vincent T. Cheatham of Birmingham (presumably equipped with a snappy comeback for the old joke about a law firm named ‘Dewey Cheatham and Howe’.)
The tacit question in these records remains: How did Atchison get good federal jobs in the first place? Part of the development is clear—law school to a government agency to a more desirable federal job. Questions about who provided references, who co-signed notes if any, etc., are not answered. Beyond that, attorney Maurice R. Mitts of Mitts Milavec replies matter-of-factly, “It’s not that hard” to get a job in the Justice Department. If you “have a good work ethic and keep your grades up,” Mitts repeats, “it’s really not that hard.”
Whether or not Atchison’s academic career met the good-grades-and-work-ethic standard, Atchison managed to gain entrée in a professional job market that many other professionals have found a tough row to hoe. Mitts, a defense attorney, never encountered Atchison, but he did meet ADA Don Russell of Birmingham in court, years back. Russell was the ADA who gave Atchison a pass by dropping reckless driving and narcotics possession charges.
Next, Part 4: Things that would have gotten you and me into trouble . . .
[Note: This blog was originally published in September 2011 but was deleted by the system in May-June 2011. Here re-posted from Word files.]