City officials and leaders at the Transit Authority of River City failed to thoroughly vet former executive director Ferdinand Risco, according to a just-released independent investigation the Louisville Metro Council ordered early last year.
Risco is accused of sexually harassing women who worked for TARC as well as misusing financial resources. He resigned in February 2020 after the women reported his alleged harassment.
The investigative report on Risco’s hiring and conduct said officials should have conducted a formal background check and contacted his former employer, Atlanta’s transit authority MARTA.
“Had a thorough background investigation been conducted, the above information could have been obtained prior to hiring Risco and, thereby, preventing this entire calamitous matter,” investigator David Beyer wrote.
Beyer, a Louisville attorney and former FBI agent, conducted the independent audit. It was released months after an internal investigation detailed Risco’s alleged sexual and financial misconduct. But that report, which was published last September, avoided placing responsibility on the TARC board for Risco’s hiring and left unclear whether the process involved a formal background check.
The Beyer report said the misconduct began in February 2017, when TARC hired Risco as an assistant executive director. The idea was to hire someone into that position who could replace longtime TARC executive director Barry Barker, who retired the following year. Beyer wrote his investigation found a lack of due diligence prior to Risco’s promotion.
“Thereafter, Risco embarked on a pattern of behavior that can best be described as that of a sexual predator,” Beyer wrote. The result was “untold emotional trauma to [Risco’s] many victims,” Beyer added. And that wasn’t all.
“It also resulted in a significant financial toll to TARC—funds that could have been better used to support the operations of TARC and, thereby, benefit the many low-income, elderly and disabled TARC consumers dependent on TARC for transportation,” he wrote.
Beyer found that toll to be nearly $2 million, not including labor costs TARC, the Mayor’s Office and Metro Council incurred by investigating or responding to “this crisis.”
That figure includes settlements paid to Risco’s accusers. Last August, TARC sued Risco for the approximately $550,000 the agency said it spent on settlements. In November, Risco filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Georgia.
Mayor Greg Fischer’s office received the investigative report Thursday and he and his team are reviewing it “in detail,” according to his spokesperson Jessica Wethington.
“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,” Wethington said in a statement.
Beyer interviewed Fischer as part of the independent investigation. In the report, Beyer wrote that Fischer met Risco in early 2017, and that the mayor said he relied on then-executive director Barker’s judgment regarding Risco’s hiring.
“Fischer stated that the Mayor’s office had no involvement in conducting any due diligence at the time Risco was first hired by TARC as Assistant Executive Director,” Beyer wrote.
After Risco’s resignation, Fischer initiated the internal investigation, hired interim leadership and in September, announced with TARC that Carrie Butler would be the agency’s permanent executive director.
This story has been updated.