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Wrongdoing in clerk's office?

GBI investigation leads to felony theft indictments

Wrongdoing in clerk's office?

Wrongdoing in clerk's office?

Sherri Akins


Editor's Note: The following story has been revised to reflect the following correction, which appears in Friday's print edition: Because of a reporter's error, the result of a drug test to which Marion Williams, a former Bulloch County deputy clerk of courts, submitted incorrectly stated in a front-page article Thursday that she tested positive. While a "progressive corrective action" form from the county indicates that Williams admitted to using marijuana several times in the presence of county employees and a drug lab technician, the document did not indicate the results of the drug test. The Herald regrets the error.

    Bulloch County Clerk of Courts Teresa Tucker and former clerk Sherri Akins were charged Monday with felony theft by conversion and violation of oath of office after a nearly three-year probe by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
    Three others – a current deputy clerk and two former deputy clerks – also were charged.
    A Bulloch County grand jury indicted the five Monday after an investigation that began almost three years ago when the GBI received a complaint regarding records and collection of traffic ticket fees and fines. In August 2010, GBI agents took boxes of documents from the Bulloch County Clerk of Courts office after executing a search warrant.
    Tucker was charged with five counts of felony theft by conversion and one count of violation of oath of office, GBI Special Agent-in-Charge Catherine Sapp said. Tucker’s attorney, Dan Snipes, said the five counts are due to her being charged as party to the crime along with the other four.
    “The Grand Jury determined that some evidence existed which warranted further judicial proceedings and returned an indictment,” Snipes said in a statement released Wednesday. “The Grand Jury’s only job is to make a determination whether any evidence exists which supports the charges and they are not given the task to determine whether or not any crime actually occurred.”
    Akins, who worked part-time in the clerk’s office after her retirement in 2009 following 42 years in the elected position, was charged with one count each of felony theft by conversion and violation of oath of office, Sapp said.
    
    Akins comments
    Akins said Wednesday that the investigation is the result of a complaint filed by a “disgruntled employee hired by me and who worked under me and Teresa Tucker. The employee is also involved in this indictment.”
    Deputy clerk Leatha Deloach was charged with felony theft by conversion and violation of oath of office. Former deputy clerk Amanda Smith was charged with violation of oath of office and public record fraud. Tucker confirmed Wednesday that Smith resigned from her position June 13. Neither Deloach nor Smith could be reached for comment Wednesday.
    Former deputy clerk Marion Williams was charged with violation of oath of office, public records fraud and felony theft by conversion, Sapp said.
    Williams was terminated Dec. 19, 2011, for violating rules outlined in the Bulloch County employee handbook regarding drug use, According to a “progressive corrective action” form provided to the Statesboro Herald by Bulloch County staff attorney Jeff Akins in response to an open records request, Williams submitted to a drug test after “reasonable suspicion (she was) impaired at work.” Although the form indicated that Williams admitted to using marijuana several times in the presence of county employees and a drug lab technician, the document did not indicate the results of the drug test.
    A call to Williams’ cellphone went unanswered Wednesday, but a man who identified himself as her husband, Christopher Williams, returned the call and said he and Marion Williams were “out of town” and that she was “beside the pool,” but he would have her return calls seeking comment. As of Wednesday evening, Marion Williams had not returned the call.
    Millions of dollars in fees, fines and payments flow through Bulloch County’s Clerk of Courts office every year. The office handles civil suits, files adoption records, liens, real estate deeds, criminal felony and misdemeanor records, juvenile court records, notary public records, UCC’s (loans secured with farm equipment, boats or other non-fixed collateral).
    It also handles military discharges, passports, warrants for arrests, and tickets from the Georgia State Patrol, Bulloch County Sheriff’s Department, Georgia Southern University Police, Department of Natural Resources and Department of Transportation.
    
    Tucker, Akins statements
    Attorneys for Akins and Tucker released statements from their clients Wednesday.
    “I have worked in the Bulloch County Clerk of Court’s office since 1979,” Tucker said in a release provided by Snipes. “During the 35 years that I worked as a public servant, I have never done anything that I thought to be dishonest or contrary to the interests of the citizens of Bulloch County.
    “I have never knowingly committed any crimes or taken any money or property. After being elected Clerk of Court in November of 2008 and taking office in January of 2009, I stepped into the role of Clerk and have operated the office honestly and to the best of my ability. From the very beginning, I have fully cooperated with the GBI in their investigation into this matter and will continue to be truthful in every aspect of this case.”
    Akins released a statement provided to the Statesboro Herald by her attorney, Sims Lanier.
    After learning of the indictment, she said, “I have not reviewed any written outline of the allegation against me, nor was I given the opportunity to address the grand jury or explain important facts that should have been considered. All that will come in due course.
    “I proudly served the courts of Bulloch County in the clerk’s office for nearly 42 years,” she said. “I have been motivated by nothing more than dedication to public service, and I have never betrayed that trust. My family and I will get through this ordeal proudly, with the love for each other and for this community, as we always have. I intend to vigorously defend myself and my reputation in challenging the allegation wrongfully made against me.”
    The case is being handled by the Eastern Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office because the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office has recused itself from the case.
    Ogeechee Judicial Circuit District Attorney Richard Mallard said Wednesday that he “recused this office due to relationships between our office and persons involved” as well as the fact that his office receives Victim Witness funds provided by a percentage of fines and fees collected through the Bulloch County Clerk of Courts office.
     “We requested another prosecutor” and Eastern Circuit Judicial Circuit District Attorney Meg Heap was assigned to the case, Mallard said.
    Tucker, Akins, Smith and Deloach were all booked into the Bulloch County Jail Wednesday. As of Wednesday evening, Williams had not been booked, according to jail records.
    In November 2010, then-GBI Special Agent-in-Charge Micah Ward told the Statesboro Herald that he expected the investigation to be lengthy.
    The GBI Financial Investigations Unit, based in Atlanta, reviewed many boxes of documents taken from the clerk’s office after a day-long raid.
    "Due to the volume of paperwork, and a backlog - it takes a while" to complete such an investigation, Ward said at the time.
    Sapp said the investigation is ongoing.
    
    Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.

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