MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - An unusual relationship between a Memphis businessman and the Memphis Police Department is over. The 'divorce' was ordered by Director Toney Armstrong. It comes after a set up between Memphis developer Nick Clark and former Memphis Police Director Larry Godwin, where Clark would often use his own money to help buy gear, vehicles, office space, even furniture for the department's Organized Crime Unit.
Clark doesn't understand what all the fuss is about; he said he just wanted to help. Hundreds of pages of documents show what this citizen crime fighter did.
Only in Memphis would a well known businessman from a prominent family decide he wanted to help police fight crime, and he'd use his own money to do it. The document outlining the unusual agreement was marked as confidential, but not anymore.
Starting 13 years ago, Nick Clark began fronting purchases for police. He bought the Organized Crime Unit a Ford Expedition in 2005, and that was just the beginning.
"For a citizen to step up to assist, especially in a time of so many cutbacks, everybody's losing money, if somebody is able to do that, I think it's great," commented Memphis resident Melvin Shaw.
Former director Larry Godwin also thought it was great. From 2005, he and Clark had a lot of letters going back and forth.
Clark claims he was afraid for the safety of OCU officers, who often work undercover. He didn't like them just working out of their office near downtown so he went out and got them office space in East Memphis. They had a couple of fake business names on the door; one said 'Edge Properties' and the other said 'Silverman Wholesale.'
The entire relationship was hush-hush. Clark and former director Godwin sent letters back and forth for years talking about how much money Clark spent, where he spent it and how much he needed to be reimbursed. He did get reimbursed, by the way, in cash with no paper trail, right up until two years ago.
"I think it's a bad thing," surmised Memphian Justin Yates. "I think it can be a really bad thing anytime you're spending money that's not yours. It can always come back to bite you, you know? It's not good at all."
Josh Morrow, a federal public defender, thought the situation opened the doors for a lot of problems. "Well, he gets to control who they go after. The government is supposed to make that decision. You don't want anybody influenced," he said. "It sounds like a movie to me."
It's not a movie, but get some popcorn.
Make no mistake about it, Memphis folks know that it's a dangerous world, and Memphis can, at times, make the toughest cities look tame. So when somebody wants to cough up a little coin to help cops, some saw it as no big deal.
Rosa Gilmore of Memphis told abc24.com, "If he's spending his own money, while we're trying to cut down on crime, I think it's a good thing."
Clark said he wanted to simply help the officers he admires to do their jobs.
"The system that was set up was I take the risks in regards to whether there are any expenditures that are not approved and I could help set up, and they'll decide whether to pay or not."
Clark said only four or five people in the department knew of his role. He told one other person, his wife. But it's all out in the open now.
"The operation is being disbanded this weekend… because of the release of the information," Clark said.
Remember that one of the first things Toney Armstrong did when becoming Police Director was make major changes at the Organized Crime Unit. At the time, some weren't sure what was going on. Now, after the events of this week, clearly he didn't like what had been going on and wanted changes immediately.