News 12 at 11 o'clock, January 23, 2008
AUGUSTA, Ga.---Richmond County Deputy Coroner Charlena Graham has been arrested by sheriff's deputies and charged with stealing property from a dead person.
"The events of the last 24 hours have destroyed my trust in that person that I greatly trusted when I hired her and put her in a position of trust. She betrayed me and betrayed the citizens of Richmond County," said Coroner Grover Tuten.
He told us the family of a deceased person called the Sheriff about a week ago to say when personal items were returned to them, some were missing.
The victim was 29-year-old Stephanie LeBlanc. Deputy Coroner Graham was called to the on December 31, 2007 and trusted with LeBlanc's body and her belongings.
Her boyfriend says that included five gift cards she had just received for Christmas, for Stephanie to use at places like Macy's, Victoria's Secret, Outback, and Target. Her boyfriend says Graham was seen on video surveillance using the card at Target with a friend.
"Based on the information we had, the video and information from the family, this afternoon we locked up the Deputy Coroner," says Capt. Jack Francisco.
The evidence is strong. Coroner Grover Tuten says the cards were photographed as part of LeBlanc's property, so they know she had them on her when she arrived.
"We spoke to her, she has cooperated. We have some of the property that was purchased with the gift cards," added Capt. Francsico.
But the recovered property does little to ease LeBlanc's family and law enforcement, Sheriff Ronnie Strength adding, "I'm very disappointed, this is a despicable offense."
Deputy Coroner Charlena Graham was one of two deputy coroners who assisted Tuten with investigating deaths in the county and had worked in the office for four years. He told News 12 he considered her a friend and that she had a good work record.
He adds this is the first complaint of this type he can remember in his 30 years in the coroner's office.
Deputy Coroner Graham was arrested Wednesday, and when deputies put handcuffs on her, she was fired.
The accusations are considered a felony because the accused violated her oath of office, according to Sheriff Ronnie Strength.
News 12's Tom Campbell contributed to this report.