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Officials want clerk out

McCord charged with theft from county

POSTED: February 17, 2010 4:00 a.m.
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McCord

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The Dawson County commission voted Friday to file a petition in Superior Court to remove longtime Clerk of Superior Court Becky McCord from office.

  

McCord, 61, was arrested Thursday in connection with the theft of more than $119,000 from the county over the last five years.

  

McCord, who has served as clerk since 1993, faces one count of felony theft by taking.

  

County officials said last week they anticipated McCord would resign.

  

When they did not receive a resignation, the commissioners agreed to have County Attorney Joey Homans file the petition, which county spokeswoman Cathy Brooks said could have been filed by any resident.

  

Brooks said the civil case could go before a jury as early as this week.

  

McCord, whose salary is just more than $73,000 annually, continues to draw a paycheck, county officials said.

  

According to the arrest warrant, McCord as clerk of court was entitled to $77,427 of fees paid to the clerk of court’s office for issuing passports between 2004 and 2009.

  

During that same time period, however, investigators say McCord wrote checks to herself on the account totaling more than $205,000.

  

She turned herself into authorities Thursday after Superior Court Judge Lynn Aldermann of the Enotah Judicial Circuit signed a warrant for her arrest, Dawson County Sheriff’s Lt. Tony Wooten said.

  

Superior Court judges in the Northeastern Judicial Circuit, which includes Dawson and Hall counties, recused themselves from the case.

  

McCord was released on a $50,000 property bond, which played a role in the county commission filing the petition to remove her from office, county officials said.

  

According to the consent bond, McCord can have no contact with any witnesses in the case, including any employee at the clerk’s office.

  

She also may not go to the courthouse except for business pertaining to her criminal case.

  

“Because the clerk is unable to perform her job duties under conditions of the consent bond granted in connection with the recent case State of Georgia vs. Becky V. McCord, the board moved forward with the petition to prevent any disruption of services to our taxpayers,” Brooks said.

  

“This action was taken by the board to ensure the fluid operation of the clerk’s office with no interruption of service to the citizens of Dawson County or the judicial system.”

  

The petition states McCord “engaged in acts of misconduct and misbehavior while performing her duties and acting within her capacity of clerk of superior court of Dawson County.”

  

In addition to abandonment of office, the petition also cites McCord’s failure to properly supervise the deputy clerk of court and properly manage the clerk of court bank accounts.

  

Local authorities expanded a probe into missing funds to include McCord after learning clerk of court chief deputy Donna Sheriff, 42, had written two dozen checks to former contract worker Justin Disharoon, 22, on an escrow account the clerk of court’s office set up to hold cash bonds. Sheriff is McCord’s niece, according to Wooten.

  

Sheriff and Disharoon, both of Dawsonville, have reportedly admitted taking nearly $82,000 from the clerk of court’s office.

  

Both have been charged with a single count of felony theft by taking.

  

Sheriff was fired Jan. 26, according to county employment records.      

  

Elaine Garrett, who was sworn in as chief deputy clerk on Feb. 3 following Sheriff’s dismissal, is acting in McCord’s absence.

  

The initial investigation led authorities to review an account the clerk of courts office set up with United Community Bank for fees paid to obtain passports.  

  

Since McCord is an elected official, the sheriff’s office asked the Georgia Bureau of Investigations to assist.      

  

According to the warrant, McCord told investigators that the passport fees had accrued into a large amount of money, since she allowed them to roll over from year to year.      

  

Authorities said the investigation revealed that there were no accrued or rollover funds from the fees taken in from passports between 2004 and 2009.      

  

Investigators have not been able to review records or bank statements between the year 2000, when the clerk of court’s office first began processing passports, and 2003, because the documents are missing.     

  

Authorities said they are working with the bank to obtain those records.      

  

McCord’s arrest warrant cites interviews with authorities during which Sheriff said McCord told her to adjust the ledger of the account in question to show it balanced.       

  

The warrant also states that the checks written to McCord and signed by McCord were manually typed and not generated through the clerk of court’s office computer bookkeeping program for issuing checks, which caused the monthly ledgers to be unbalanced.      

  

McCord is in her fifth term as clerk of courts after running unopposed in 2008.

Her attorneys, Bruce Harvey of Atlanta and Jeffery Talley of Gainesville, could not be reached for comment.

  

The last time an elected Dawson County official faced felony charges was in the early 1980s, when then Sheriff John Davis was arrested on drug-related charges during his second term of office.      

  

Davis served as sheriff from 1977-83.

 

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