I-TEAM: Nearly $53K missing from Burke County Sheriff’s Office
WAYNESBORO, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Questions are mounting about more than $50,000 missing for more than six years from the Burke County Sheriff’s Office and specifically, its top leader, Sheriff Alfonzo Williams.
The county attorney told the I-TEAM, who says this was not only improper, it threatens public trust and potentially tax-payer funding for law enforcement.
We spent months investigating the missing money talking to sources and legal experts. Here’s what we’ve uncovered.
We’ve confirmed the missing money, close to $53,000 is now deposited where it was supposed to be all along into a bank account. But the investigation is not over. And so far, there is no official word on where it’s been for all of Alfonzo Williams’ tenure as sheriff.
It’s not the first time he’s been investigated for how money is being tracked and spent under his watch.
Questions are mounting about if policies and procedures were followed to the letter of the law with the Burke County Sheriff’s Office, especially when it comes to $53,000 given to Sheriff Williams from former Sheriff Greg Coursey’s office when he retired.
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The missing funds make Burke County Manager Merv Waldrop frustrated. “Money is way too important to come in for us to be jeopardizing it with foolish financial practices.”
This money came by the way of assets or evidence in unresolved court cases during former Sheriff Greg Coursey’s tenure. It could be anything from a car, house, drugs, or straight cash.
By law, confiscated assets must be cataloged. A signature on this letter from Dec. 30, 2016, is that of Sheriff-Elect Alfonzo Williams. Waldrop says that proves he knowingly signed for the $53,871.31 of seized monies or confiscated assets.
“Your red flags go up, and you think, well, what … what’s going on here? It warrants asking more questions.”
Nearly a month later, on Jan. 31, 2017, Judge Daniel Craig signs an order that those $53,000 worth of assets will go to the sheriff’s office to be used for law enforcement purposes. In order to do so, the county says that money has to go into the drug enforcement fund with the county, so they can track it and budget it.
“I started asking questions, looking into (it.) I couldn’t find any deposits that matched that amount of $53,871.31,” explains Waldrop.
The I-TEAM reached out to the sheriff’s office asking for an interview with Sheriff Alfonzo Williams. His office denied our request.
We sent the sheriff’s office questions asking about the funds. They wrote back “the money was deposited into the forfeited fund’s account, and a copy of the deposit slip was forwarded to the county manager’s office.”
That happened only after questions were raised by the county six years later. Spreadsheets from the county show that more than $53,000 was never deposited or accounted for in any account.
According to state law and the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council, confiscated assets must complete annual reporting to the state. (o.c.g.a. §§ 9-16-19(g)(3)(a) and 9-16-21(b).)
The report must be submitted by Jan. 31, for the previous calendar year. Records show the funds were never reported.
What the I-TEAM has uncovered is no one in the county knew where that money was for more than six years. That’s because Waldrop tells the I-TEAM he didn’t even know it was not accounted for until he was tipped off by former Sheriff Greg Coursey.
“So between 2017 and Oct. 24 of ‘22, we don’t know where the funds were,” explains Waldrup.
We obtained emails between county officials and District Attorney Jared Williams that show they also had no record of the sheriff’s office disclosing the funds.
On the heels of those questions, a full six years and two weeks later, the money was deposited into the account. Surveillance pictures show a Burke County Deputy in uniform at Southern Bank with large amounts of cash. Those pictures and the deposits further threw up a flag for county officials.
While the total amount of money was the same, a closer look at the denominations on the original assets sheet six years ago did not match what was deposited at Southern Bank.
“It was the minimal amount of bills to make up $53,871 and $0.31. And that was… that was another red flag. Is that the deposit did not appear to be the same amount of cash that was listed on the reports that Sheriff Coursey provided us.”
The missing money coupled with an independent financial audit in October of last year could add up to trouble for taxpayers.
The audit found Sheriff Williams spent more than $200,000 in grant money on a credit card that county commissioners say they never authorized.
Waldrop says it all comes down to bookkeeping.
“If these problems continue to happen the county has the potential of being a non-certified or non-qualified local government. If we get an unqualified local government status, we’re not eligible for grant funding from state agencies.”
In the end, it can hurt the county, taxpayers, and even the Sheriff himself and his office in the long run.
In a separate criminal investigation, the GBI is looking into irregularities in training records for a Waynesboro Police Department Officer. Those classes were given by Sheriff Williams. The GBI says that the case is still ongoing.
We reached out to District Attorney Jared Williams to see if he was looking into either. He is not commenting at this time.
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