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3 plead guilty in Clerk of Courts case

Current, former deputy clerks get 10 years probation

3 plead guilty in Clerk of Courts case

3 plead guilty in Clerk of Courts case

Leatha Deloach

Three defendants pleaded guilty Tuesday in the case against the Bulloch County Clerk of Courts Office.

Two others maintain claims of innocence; suspended Clerk of Courts Teresa Tucker stands on a not guilty plea, while an indictment was quashed last week against former clerk of courts and part time deputy clerk Sherri Akins, who has also stated she is not guilty as charged.

All five — including deputy clerk Leatha Deloach and former deputy clerks Marion Puckett Williams and Amanda Kay Smith — were indicted July 8 by a Bulloch County grand jury on charges of felony theft by conversion and violation of oath by public officer. Williams and Smith also were indicted on public records fraud charges.

Smith, Williams and Deloach were each sentenced to 10 years probation under a plea deal approved Tuesday by Ogeechee Judicial Circuit Chief Judge William E. Woodrum Jr.

While another indictment against Akins could be reintroduced to a grand jury, at this time, the only defendant whose case is still pending is that of Tucker, who was granted a voluntary suspension from office while the case is ongoing.

Under the plea deal, reached by Eastern Judicial Circuit Chief Assistant District Attorney Greg McConnell and the defendants' attorneys, Deloach, Williams and Smith pleaded to theft by conversion, and the other charges against them will not be prosecuted. In addition to probation, each of these defendants must pay $6,000 restitution to Bulloch County.

If each defendant serves four years probation without violation and makes the full ordered restitution, the remainder of the term will be suspended, according to the order. Each was sentenced as a first-time offender.

When asked Wednesday how those terms were reached, McConnell did not answer. Queries regarding the case were referred to Daniel V. Baxter, the public information officer for  the Eastern Judicial Circuit DA’s Office.

“I spoke with Greg McConnell and he is unable to answer this question,” Baxter replied by email Wednesday to a phone call and e-mail request from the Statesboro Herald. “It is not a matter pertaining to public record.”

Phone calls seeking comment on why the three defendants did not follow Akins’ lead in seeking indictments to be quashed were not returned Wednesday by Smith’s attorney, Matt Hube of Hube & Tucker in Statesboro, and Williams’ attorney, John B. Manley of Bouhan and Falligant in Savannah.

Deloach’s attorney, Donald Sheppard of Reddick & Sheppard in Sylvania, declined to comment on the matter Wednesday.

The indictment against Akins was quashed Aug. 28, when Woodrum granted a motion filed by Akins' attorney Sims Lanier. Lanier stated in the motion that Akins' indictment was "tainted" because Tucker and her attorney, Daniel B. Snipes, were allowed in the courtroom during grand jury proceedings and Tucker was allowed to present evidence.

The Eastern Judicial Circuit DA's Office is prosecuting the case because the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit DA's Office recused itself, citing a close working relationship with the Bulloch County Clerk of Courts Office.

However, the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit’s investigator, Jake Wynn, is listed as a witness to the case and is listed as prosecutor on indictments.

Ogeechee Judicial Circuit District Attorney Richard Mallard said Wednesday that Wynn was an investigator during the almost three-year-long Georgia Bureau of Investigation probe into the matter and is a “fact witness” in the case. However, his office “is not calling the shots and is not making any decisions or “controlling the prosecution,” Mallard said.

The indictment alleges that each incidence of theft by conversion took place between Jan. 1, 2009, and Aug. 31, 2010, though the exact dates were unknown. Each theft by conversion count specifies that funds intended for deposit in a Bulloch County bank account were diverted to other accounts by those indicted.

Felony theft by conversion means at least $25,000 in money was diverted from official use. A conviction carries a prison sentence of two to 20 years for each count, according to the Georgia Code.

McConnell said he will seek another indictment against Akins after the first was quashed, Lanier said Wednesday.
“I don’t have any control over that,” Lanier said, adding that if that takes place “we will be back at square one. McConnell has indicated his intent was to re-present it to a grand jury.”

Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.


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