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Ex-clerk pleads to charges

Faces sentencing, fine up to $500,000

POSTED: June 22, 2011 4:00 a.m.

GAINESVILLE - Dawson County's former clerk of courts pleaded guilty Friday to federal tax evasion and bankruptcy fraud.

Appearing in U.S. District Court, 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 taking nearly $120,000 from the Dawson County Clerk of Courts office, where she had served for more than 17 years.

Contrary to a news release from the U.S. Attorney's office, McCord's attorney said his client did not admit guilt in the theft case.

"She pleaded guilty to the elements of the crimes of bankruptcy fraud and tax evasion," Jeff Talley said Monday.

Though 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, 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 and was released on $10,000 bond.

Back in court Friday, McCord appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan Cole.

Cole said McCord's 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 her plea Friday.

"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 Friday, McCord referred questions to her attorneys.

Lead counsel Bruce Harvey said his client was remorseful.

"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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