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IRS looks into clerk of courts

Arraignment is set for March 25

POSTED: March 17, 2010 4:00 a.m.

The Internal Revenue Service has opened a case on Dawson County Clerk of Court Becky McCord, authorities said Monday.

  

Dawson County Sheriff’s Maj. John Cagle said investigators met recently with IRS agents to share information, including McCord’s bank records.

  

McCord, 61, who was arrested in February, is accused of taking more than $140,000 from the county.

  

It is not clear if McCord claimed the additional funds on her federal taxes.

  

If the clerk filed false joint tax returns with her husband, Cagle said, “then [he] too could be at risk for prosecution.”

  

A petition to remove the longtime clerk from office has been delivered to Gov. Sonny Perdue.

  

Along with the petition, the governor’s office also received a copy of a two-count indictment that contends she stole more than $119,000 from the county and violated her oath of office.

  

Since the indictment, an additional $20,000 has turned up missing. And according to investigators, that amount could grow.

  

McCord was released on bond following her initial arrest. Her criminal arraignment is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. March 25 in Superior Court.

  

Repeated calls to her attorneys, Jeffery Talley and Bruce Harvey, have not been returned.

  

A hearing on the petition to remove has tentatively been set for April 5 before Superior Court Judge Kathlene Gosselin.

  

The petition contends McCord vacated the position by abandoning her office after agreeing to a bond that declared she can have no contact with any employees in the clerk of courts office.

  

The bond order also says she may only enter the courthouse for business pertaining to her case. 

  

“We did send the petition to the governor’s office along with the indictment and requested he proceed as required,” said County Attorney Joey Homans, who filed the petition on behalf of the county commission.

  

Homans also sent a letter declaring the clerk’s position vacant and saying Probate Judge Jennifer Burt could appoint another clerk within 10 days of McCord receiving the letter.

  

According to Homans, McCord’s attorneys have denied she vacated or abandoned her position. They have not responded to the county’s petition for removal.

  

“I expect to have a reply from her attorneys in the form of either a written motion or some sort of written reply to the petition before April 5,” Homans said Thursday.

  

Homans said the next conference call between attorneys and Gosselin is set for March 22.

  

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

  

County officials instructed Homans to file the petition when she refused to resign.

  

Homans said Gov. Perdue should appoint a panel of two Georgia Clerks of Court and the attorney general to review the matter and weigh whether to suspend the clerk of courts 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.

  

According to the arrest warrant, McCord wrote thousands of dollars in checks to herself over several years from a passport account set up through the clerk of courts office.

  

Authorities say she was entitled to $77,427 of fees paid to her office for issuing passports between 2004-09, although checks she wrote on the account total more than $200,000.

  

Gosselin is the only Superior Court judge in the Northeastern Judicial Circuit, which includes Dawson and Hall counties, who did not recuse herself 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.

  

Sheriff, 42, who was fired Jan. 26, 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.

  

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.  

  

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

 

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