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Former clerk of courts pleads guilty to tax evasion, fraud

POSTED: June 17, 2011 5:45 p.m.

An ex-Dawson County official pleaded guilty Friday to federal tax evasion and bankruptcy fraud.

Appearing in U.S. District Court in Gainesville, Becky McCord, 62, admitted falsifying her 2009 federal income tax return and lying about her income during a bankruptcy hearing.

The federal inquiry into her personal finances stemmed from McCord's February 2010 arrest for allegedly stealing nearly $120,000 from the Dawson County Clerk of Courts office where she served as clerk of court for more than 17 years.

While the state's case has not gone to trial, the investigation revealed McCord had failed to report the funds on her federal income tax and on a bankruptcy petition she filed jointly with her spouse in December 2007, prompting the federal charges.

Prosecutors were expecting McCord to plead guilty April 26 to the federal charges. Once in court, though, her attorney, Jeff Talley, said there was a disagreement over the amount listed as McCord's unreported income on the plea agreement the U.S. attorney's office presented.

Instead, she waived arraignment, entered a not guilty plea instead and was released on $10,000 bond.

Back in court Friday, McCord told U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan Cole she committed the crimes as charged.

Cole said the plea would be transferred to Senior U.S. District Judge William C. O'Kelley for sentencing.

McCord faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $500,000. No sentencing date has been set.

McCord resigned as clerk of courts in March 2010, nearly a month after she was arrested for allegedly taking more than $119,000 from the county between 2006 and 2010.

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 nearly $78,000 in fees paid to her office for issuing passports between 2004-09, but checks she wrote on the account total more than $200,000.

Dawson authorities began investigating McCord after learning Donna Sheriff, her chief deputy clerk, had written two dozen checks to a former contract worker on a courts account.

Both Sheriff and the contract worker, Justin Disharoon, pleaded guilty to theft charges last summer.

Sentencing was delayed until McCord's case could go to trial. Prosecutors have said both have agreed to testify against McCord should the state's case go to trial.

Northeastern Judicial Circuit District Attorney Lee Darragh said he anticipates the state's case against McCord to proceed quickly, following the guilty plea.

"We intend to proceed on the state's charges. The exact scheduling would not be determined until after the federal sentence," Darragh said.

Leaving the courtroom, McCord referred questions to her attorneys.

Lead council Bruce Harvey said his client was deeply remorseful for her actions.

"She wants to thank the community that supported and elected her to serve for so many years," Harvey said. "She is real regretful and remorseful for her failure to breach that trust."

Harvey would not comment on the pending case in Dawson County.

 

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