By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Sheriffs race campaign cash over $160,000,but most went to GOP primary candidates
Brown not refunding contribution from store owner with arrests; Howard continues low-cost campaign
brown howard comp
Noel Brown, left, and Keith Howard

Cash contributions to the three candidates who started out the Bulloch County Sheriff's race this year topped $160,000 by Sept. 30.

But 95 percent of that went to the two Republicans, including Sheriff's Office Sgt. Noel Brown, who is now the GOP nominee, and Chief Deputy Jared Akins, who has been out of the race since the May 24 primary. The Democratic Party candidate facing Brown in the Nov. 8 general election, Keith Howard, reported receiving $6,429 for his entire campaign through Sept. 30.

‘Concerned Citizens'

An Oct. 13 Statesboro Herald advertisement, not placed by Howard's campaign but by "Concerned Citizens of Bulloch County," questioned Brown's ethics for accepting a $2,500 contribution from a local businessman who had been arrested three times on gambling charges and once on an obstruction of law enforcement charge. In fact, the businessman's record was cleared of most of the charges in legal proceedings years ago, and Akins' campaign also received $2,500 from the same businessman earlier this year.

Brown supplied a written statement about the contribution described in the ad.

"I am not familiar with that particular case, but I can assure you that my campaign has always followed the law receiving contributions," he wrote. "I don't know of any campaign that runs criminal background checks on everyone that contributes, and obviously that would be impractical. I don't believe that people who have made mistakes should be denied participation in the political process.

"Everyone should be able to donate to the candidate of his or her choice," Brown's statement continued. "You can be certain that if anyone who made a contribution to me asked for something in return, I would give their donation back on the spot."

If elected sheriff, he concluded, "I will enforce the law whether the case involves a person who supported me or not."

Asked in an interview whether if he will give back the contribution, Brown said he wouldn't.

"No sir, he's got a right to donate to a campaign, just like anybody else," Brown said. "I don't know of anybody who has not made a mistake in their life. He will not be treated any differently than you or I ... if he were to break the law."

Brown has received contributions from people in a variety of occupations, as his disclosure reports show.

"You've got hard-working people from low-income to middle-income to upper- income giving to this campaign," he said. "This is not one section of life, it is all different facets, and that has really humbled me, and I will not let them down."

Old news

The Oct. 13 ad referred to "Mitalkumar Raval" as having donated $2,500 to Brown's campaign. The person identified in Brown's June 30 campaign disclosure as having given that amount June 20 was actually Nitalkumar Raval, listed as self-employed in the "food industry."

Store owner Nital J. Raval, as he is listed in court documents, was charged along with another man Oct. 19, 2004 and again Jan. 29, 2005 for operating gambling machine at a store on Northside Drive. This resulted in a Bulloch County Superior Court indictment charging him with commercial gambling, keeping a gambling place and possession of a gambling device.

In May 2005 the commercial gambling charge was reduced to misdemeanor gambling when Raval pleaded guilty to that and the two other gambling-related charges. Judge F. Gates Peed initially sentenced Raval to 12 months probation plus a $1,000 fine and $305 fees. But that November, Peed modified the sentence, granting Raval first-offender status.

Another record in the court clerk's office shows that Raval was recognized June 20, 2006 as having successfully completed his probation, so a Georgia First Offender Act order was issued exonerating him of the original charges.

However, in April 2009 Raval was charged again with keeping a gambling place and misdemeanor obstruction. The obstruction charge was for allegedly telling the sheriff's department he had sent his video poker machines to a store in Vidalia when he had kept them in a Statesboro garage, Sheriff Lynn Anderson said then, as reported in an April 18, 2009, Statesboro Herald story.

That time, Raval entered a no-contest plea to a charge of possession of a gambling device, and the other charges were dismissed. Peed sentenced him April 6, 2010 to 11 months on probation and a $2,000 fine with $555 fees.

Akins, too

Raval's identical contributions to Akins and Brown were made at different points in the campaign season. In his March 31 disclosure, Akins reported a Feb. 12, 2016, contribution of $2,500 from Raval.

All three candidates have stayed within Georgia's limits of $2,600 that a candidate can accept from any individual before a primary election and $2,600 more before a general election. Further limits of $1,400 for each runoff are not relevant to this race.

In his disclosure, Akins had other contributions dated Feb. 12, including several for $2,500. That was the day after his campaign kickoff event.

"We had just that initial campaign kickoff, and I have no idea how many people were there, but there were tons of folks, and we took the contributions from whoever was willing to contribute them at the time," Akins said in a phone interview Thursday. "We didn't have a vetting process or anything like that. We didn't run any kind of criminal history record check on them or anything."

Like Brown, Akins said no contributions would buy special treatment from him, nor would have had he been elected sheriff.

"I can tell you just from a personal standpoint, nobody that contributed to the campaign would have had any more access, any more influence than any other citizen of Bulloch County, so that never was an issue as far as I was concerned," Akins said. "Nobody was going to buy the favor of the Sheriff's Office in making any kind of contribution."

After losing the primary, Akins zeroed out his campaign account with $71,402 in contributions and an equal amount of expenses, he reported in his June 30 disclosure. He also reported $1,898 worth of in-kind donations. These are when people give things such as campaign signs instead of cash.

Candidates are required to report their donations and expenditures on six set dates during an election year.

As of Sept. 30, Brown's campaign reported $84,168 in monetary donations for the year. His reports are filed by campaign treasurer Julie Barnes, a certified public accountant.

Brown's campaign had spent $69,942 by Sept. 30 and so had $14,226 on hand. His campaign also reported in-kind contributions worth $7,655.

Howard's shoestring

Meanwhile, Howard, a businessman and former state trooper and once Jenkins County sheriff's chief deputy, had spent $5,605 of the $6,429 in campaign donations he'd received by Sept. 30. All year to that point, he had only seven itemized contributions, those for $100 or more. Candidates report lump sums of contributions less than $100 each but don't itemize these.

Howard originally said he expected to spend $10,000 to $12,000. Thursday, he said $12,000 to $15,000. He said he has more contributions to include in the next report, which must show expenses through Oct. 25. So far he has reported no in-kind donations, but said he will have one to report if a donated billboard is placed in time.

Howard said he sticks with statements he made earlier about candidates needing to be careful about accepting campaign contributions.

"I stick to my guns on that," he said. "You get yourself in a bind if you take money that's contaminated, especially in a sheriff's race."

Howard said he did not have anything to do with the "Concerned Citizens" ad, but was contacted by those who apparently submitted it. He said he had understood they were going to submit a letter to the editor, and was surprised to see the ad. The Statesboro Herald did receive a letter with similar content from an individual - not Howard - and did not publish it because of the content naming a donor in relation to criminal charges and requiring fact-checking. The ad was placed later.

Howard said he had asked the people who contacted him to let him fact-check the information on the donor, and had done so by calling the district attorney's office.

"I asked them to let me research it before they did it because I didn't want to get any mudslinging started that wasn't truthful," Howard said. "I don't go into skeletons in the closet."

He said he is concerned instead with a candidate's "qualifications, the diversity of experience and anything that wouldn't make him a good sheriff."

But Howard made clear that he considered the point about the contribution a valid one.

"I hope the voting public sees it the same way I do; you can't come into office as the sheriff with questionable contributions on your campaign," Howard said.

Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.



Sign up for the Herald's free e-newsletter