Georgia Bureau of Investigation special agents are looking into allegations that the mayor of Register acted improperly when he admittedly poured out several bottles of liquor held in the town’s evidence locker.
John Williams was suspended last month after he admitted dumping the alcohol during a council meeting.
Statesboro GBI Special Agent-in-Charge Catherine Sapp said Friday her office had “just opened an investigation into mishandling of evidence.”
His suspension was also due to allegations of mishandled funds, an issue the council is still investigating, said Mayor Pro-Tem Barbara Rushing.
“We met yesterday (Thursday),” she told the Statesboro Herald Friday. The meeting, a work session, was “to see where we are and trying to get the budget under control. (We are) making immediate cuts where we could and trying to stay on top of the current debt.”
The town has been in financial stress for several months, and council members have attributed the cause to poor bookkeeping as well as excessive spending by the mayor. Williams also blamed the city’s now-defunct police department as a reason the town is in debt, claiming the department was “bleeding money.” That claim led to his move to suspend the police department in December.
The allegedly mishandled funds involved unauthorized expenditures that were not approved by the council and had “nothing to do with the police department,” Rushing said. “And all I can tell you on the GBI investigation is … it’s an active investigation. They've really given me no indication of how anything is progressing.”
Williams told the Statesboro Herald Friday he did not intend to do anything wrong and did not realize pouring out the liquor was illegal.
He said he feels his suspension and the GBI investigation are all “retaliation for his putting an end” to the police department.
“I didn’t feel like I did anything wrong,” he said. “The police department was over and I felt like I needed to clear out the evidence.” He said nothing else was in the evidence locker to his knowledge.
Denying knowledge that disposing of evidence from current cases was illegal, Williams said he has seen it done before.
“The last 25 cases (of liquor that were seized and held as evidence in Register police cases) just disappeared,” he said.
Williams said a former police officer disposed of the alcohol and “didn’t take pictures or have a witness. He just did it.” Williams said he had a witness when he poured out the liquor – maintenance employee Lamar Thigpen, who was also suspended – and they took photographs of the act.
“I didn’t think they would use the liquor in court,” he said. “They never have before – it always rode around in the back of the patrol cars and then got gone.”
He expressed surprise Friday when a reporter told him the GBI was investigating.
“It was just a big mistake.”
He said he never intended to do wrong, and he feels Rushing is taking the issue personally.
“Barbara Rushing has a really big vendetta against me,” he said. “The Kiles (former police chief Tom Kile and his son, officer Terry Kile) set out to get me. I have been in shock. There was no criminal intent whatsoever. Somebody is pushing the envelope.”
Rushing said in earlier interviews the Register City Council adopted a resolution to suspend Williams' authority following the discovery of “questionable expenses,” made during scrutiny of town records in trying to help pull Register out of its negative financial situation.
The council continues to investigate documents and try to decipher what took place with Williams’ allegedly unapproved expenditures.
Williams said Friday he spent nothing except money for the town’s needs.
The resolution stated that many of the unapproved expenditures involved funds from Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax monies.
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.