Editor’s note: Bulloch County Clerk of Courts Teresa Tucker pleaded guilty to two felony counts of violation of oath by public officer. Because of a reporter’s mistake, front-page articles Tuesday and Wednesday incorrectly stated that she pleaded to misdemeanors. A corrected article on the plea agreement appears below. The Statesboro Herald regrets the errors.
While felony charges of theft by conversion were dropped Monday, Bulloch County Clerk of Courts Teresa Tucker pleaded guilty to two counts of violation of public office, a charge that is a felony, not a misdemeanor.
Because of a reporter’s error, it was incorrectly published previously that the charge is a misdemeanor.
After nearly three years of investigation by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Tucker and four others were indicted July 8 on charges of felony theft by conversion and related offenses. Through a plea bargain, Tucker entered the guilty plea and Bulloch County Superior Court Judge William E. Woodrum Jr. sentenced her to 10 years probation, a fine of $1,000 and to pay restitution of $6,000.
Deputy clerk Sherri Akins, working part-time after retiring from more than 40 years as the Bulloch County clerk of courts, also pleaded Monday, entering a no-contest plea to a misdemeanor charge of malfeasance in office.
Felony theft charges against Akins were dropped as part of the plea bargain. Woodrum sentenced her to 12 months probation and $6,000 restitution.
In September, deputy clerk Leatha Deloach and former deputy clerks Marion Puckett Williams and Amanda Kay Smith each pleaded guilty to theft by conversion.
Under plea deals similar to those regarding Akins and Tucker, the three were each sentenced to 10 years probation and must pay $6,000 restitution to Bulloch County.
The probe followed citizen complaints of improper practices in the Bulloch County Clerk of Courts office where people claimed their driver’s licenses were suspended in spite of having paid the traffic fines, said Greg McConnell, chief assistant district attorney for the Eastern Judicial Circuit, which covers Chatham County.
McConnell prosecuted the case because the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit DA’s office recused itself, citing a long-standing working relationship with the Bulloch County Clerk of Courts office.
On Monday, McConnell said evidence showed the clerk of courts office was responsible for faulty accounting practices because of several payments of traffic fines never being recorded. When the number of such complaints became unusual, a clerk’s office employee filed a complaint based on suspicions money was being mishandled, McConnell said.
The investigation revealed that the clerk’s office employees were allowed to borrow from an “overage bag” of funds that was kept in the office, leaving personal checks or “IOU” notes, he said.
During the investigation, both Akins and Tucker admitted using the funds to pay for business trips and expenses as well as borrowing cash for a personal trip, he said. Both said she repaid what she borrowed.
Tucker will voluntarily resign from office, effective Dec. 31, although her attorney Dan Snipes said the plea, which filed under first-offender status, did not “disqualify (Tucker) by law” from holding the office.
Bulloch County commissioners accepted Tucker’s resignation Tuesday as clerk of courts. The elected position, held on an interim basis by former GBI agent Charles Sikes, will be included in a nonpartisan special election that will coincide with the general primary in May or July 2014.
Tucker’s retirement or other benefit packages with the county will not be affected by her plea, Bulloch County staff attorney Jeff Akins said.
Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.