Ex-Commissioner Sias seeks new trial after federal conviction

Published: Aug. 12, 2022 at 4:25 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - After being found guilty of destroying records in a federal investigation and then lying about it to federal investigators, former Augusta Commission member Sammie Sias has appealed.

In a motion filed Friday, he’s seeking a new trial.

Sias’ lawyers allege the government did not present sufficient evidence to convict Sias of the crimes alleged in the indictment.

If the court grants a post-trial judgment of acquittal, it’s within the court’s power to grant a new trial, the legal team notes.

Sias’ lawyers say prosecutors put up much of their evidence in a way that unfairly prejudiced the jury about matters that had no bearing on the counts faced by Sias.

Lawyers claim an insinuation that emailed receipts were kept by Sias until Aug. 5, 2019, and then deleted on that night “is highly prejudicial, yet wholly unsupported by any evidence.”

Sias’ attorneys also take issue with the fact that a forensic accountant wasn’t designated as an expert witness “after the government presented to the jury the accountant’s impressive pedigree.”

The government said the witness did not need to be allowed to testify as an expert because she “was only saying what information she would want to look at” as an FBI forensic accountant.

However, Sias’ attorneys state: “That is the definition of an expert witness — someone who has specialized knowledge beyond the ken of the average layperson.”

Sias’ attorneys also object to the forensic accountant’s testimony that the accountant could not complete her tasks because she did not have receipts. The attorneys say there was no evidence at trial that any of the 7,400 files deleted were receipts.

“So the jury hears that receipts prevent the accountant from doing her job and 7,400 files were deleted, but the government never explained how or when the receipts came to be missing,” the appeal states.

“The jury could not help but conflate receipts — which were not asked for or provided to Richmond County in 2016 — with files deleted on August 5, 2019, when there was no showing made — or even attempted to be made — by the government that any files deleted were in fact receipts,” the appeal states. “That conflation alone deprived Defendant of the opportunity to receive a fair trial and warrants a new trial.”

Additionally, “the jury was left with the impression that crimes involving SPLOST funding was a central part of the government’s case” due to the amount of testimony on such funding, Sias’ attorneys allege. And “the government used the very point of SPLOST funding as an impeachment tool against witnesses called by Defendant,” the attorneys claim.

“This approach deprived Defendant of a fair trial on the specific charges in the indictment and warrants a new trial,” Sias’ appeal states.

Sias was found guilty about two weeks ago after a four-day trial.

He faces up to 20 years in prison.

Sias was accused by a former employee of sexual misconduct, pocketing $10,000 of SPLOST funds, and mistreating children at the Jamestown Community Center – a center he was been long criticized for managing while serving as a commissioner.

The defense talked about Sias’ character. They said he’s someone with lots of military services and has served in the community for a long time.

FBI computer experts testified that within hours of the agent’s visit, Sias deleted approximately 7,000 relevant files from a laptop computer in his possession that belonged to the Jamestown Community Center.

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