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Clerk indicted in theft

Authorities say more than $140,000 missing

POSTED: March 2, 2010 2:47 p.m.
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McCord

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A grand jury on Monday indicted longtime Dawson County Clerk of Court Becky McCord in connection with more than $140,000 in missing funds.

  

McCord, 61, has been charged with one count of theft by taking and violation of oath of office.

  

She was arrested Feb. 11 for reportedly taking more than $119,000 from the county over the last five years.

  

Authorities say they have since discovered additional missing funds.

  

McCord, who has served as clerk since 1993, remains in office and continues to draw her salary, which is about $73,000 annually.

  

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

  

When McCord refused to resign after her arrest, county officials had County Attorney Joey Homans file a petition Feb. 12 to remove her from office.

  

McCord signed a consent bond upon her release from jail, agreeing to have no contact with witnesses in the case, including any employee of the clerk’s office.

  

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

  

With the indictment, Homans said the suspension proceedings can begin.

  

According to Homans, a copy of the indictment will be sent to the governor, who will then appoint a panel of two Georgia Clerks of Court and the attorney general to review the matter and weigh whether to suspend McCord with pay.

  

If the panel recommends suspension, McCord can appeal the decision to the governor, whose options would include enforcing it or filing a removal petition.

  

Homans said neither possibility would affect McCord’s criminal proceedings.

  

According to the arrest warrant, McCord as clerk of court was entitled to $77,427 of fees paid to her office for issuing passports between 2004-09.

  

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 after Superior Court Judge Lynn Aldermann of the Enotah Judicial Circuit signed a warrant for her arrest.

  

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

  

Authorities expanded their probe into missing funds to include McCord after learning Donna Sheriff, the chief deputy clerk of court, had written two dozen checks to a former contract worker on an escrow account the local clerks’ office used to hold cash bonds.

  

Authorities have said Sheriff, 42, is also McCord’s niece.

  

Sheriff and the contract worker, 22-year-old Justin Disharoon of Dawsonville, have reportedly admitted taking nearly $82,000 from the clerk of court’s office.

  

Each was indicted Monday on a single count of felony theft by taking. Sheriff also faces a violation of oath of office count.

  

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 Investigation 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.     

  

The investigation revealed, however, that there were no accrued or rollover funds from the fees taken in from passports between 2004-09.     

  

Investigators continue to review records or bank statements dating back to 2000, when the clerk of court’s office first began processing passports.      

  

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.

  

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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