I-TEAM: Facing multiple investigations, Burke Co. sheriff sits down with News 12
Watch now above: Will Rioux discusses the investigations, plus see the full interview with Burke County Sheriff Alfonzo Williams.
AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - After months of investigating and asking for answers, the Burke County Sheriff finally sits down with the I-TEAM to answer to the public as he faces multiple investigations from county and state officials, including the GBI.
We’re talking missing money, questionable records, and possibly – questionable decision-making with taxpayer money by the county’s top cop.
The I-TEAM’s Will Rioux has been looking into what’s happening inside the sheriff’s office there for more than six months. He’s asked three different times just since this February to sit down with Sheriff Alfonzo Williams to get his side of the story on the looming GBI investigation and more.
Our requests were denied every time.
Just recently, we followed up asking the sheriff to talk about his budget and spending.
But before we knew the sheriff would be the one interviewing, their newly hired public information officer emailed saying she’d be interviewing on the sheriff’s behalf.
However, when the I-TEAM arrived, it was Sheriff Williams himself sitting across from us.
News 12 I-TEAM Reporter Will Rioux: “What do you think your biggest needs right now are for your agency?”
Burke County Sheriff Alfonzo Williams: “Our biggest need is trust.”
The GBI confirmed on Feb. 16 it is investigating former Waynesboro Police Department Officer Gary Jenkins for irregularities in training records.
On December 22, 2022, the Chief Investigator for the Waynesboro Police Department emailed Jenkins saying he was missing two classes: community policing and de-escalation training.
MORE FROM NEWS 12:
- Sheriff Alfonzo Williams responds to financial audit
- Burke County manager responds to audit of sheriff’s office
- Burke County sheriff releases receipts after spending allegations
- Questions arise amid GBI investigation in Waynesboro
- Nearly $53K missing from Burke County Sheriff’s Office
Sheriff Williams was the instructor for those classes in question. They had to be completed by the New Year. Jenkins’ training record shows those classes were then completed on De. 29.
Sheriff Williams put this video on Facebook saying he gave those classes in his office at the Burke County Sheriff’s Office.
Sheriff Williams says Jenkins repeatedly asked him to upload proof he took those classes. When Sheriff Williams finally did on Jan. 9, he says he couldn’t remember what day Jenkins and Mary Bennett took the classes. So, he put it down as December 29, 2022.
“I agreed to give him the instruction and give him credit for the instruction after it was complete. I did do that,” explained Sheriff Williams.
The I-TEAM requested the Sheriff’s GPS and phone records. Sheriff Williams’ location shows he wasn’t even in Burke County at the time of the training. Phone records tell us the only day it could’ve been was the 30th.
Will Rioux: “Listen, there is this significant... There is a significant GBI investigation right now going on into training records. I mean that concerns everyone.”
Sheriff Williams: “Is that a budgetary issue?”
Will Rioux: “It’s not, but I haven’t had the chance to ask you about that.”
Sheriff Williams: “You asked me to come and talk about budgetary issues and I would appreciate you being straightforward.”
In March, the I-TEAM exposed more than $53,000 in confiscated assets that went unaccounted for -- for six years according to county leaders like County Manager Merv Waldrop.
“I started asking questions,” Waldrop told the I-TEAM last month. “Looking into it, I couldn’t find any deposits that matched that amount $53,871.31.”
The money in question 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.
A signature on a letter obtained by the I-TEAM from December 2016, is that of Sheriff-Elect Alfonzo Williams. The county says that proves he knowingly signed for the confiscated assets—down to the penny.
Nearly a month later, Judge Danny Craig signed an order that those assets go to the sheriff’s office to be used for law enforcement purposes. By law, the county says that money has to go into the drug enforcement fund with the county, so it can be tracked in the budget.
Our investigation exposed that Sheriff Williams did not do that for six full years.
Will Rioux: “The community was asking where that money went for six years that randomly showed up when questions were being asked, where was that money for six years?”
Sheriff Williams: “Look, every decision that I make regarding any expenditures in this office is done with the utmost integrity in a way that allows me to fulfill my constitutional obligations. I was very responsible in the way we handle our budgetary business. I’m going to continue to do so.”
Will Rioux: “So, you can’t say where those funds were, what they were used for at all, or if they were here?
Sheriff Williams: “The money is there. The money has always been there. The money has never been missing…. All of this facade that the money was missing and all of a sudden, it appears, is bulls**t.”
The I-TEAM first showed you surveillance pictures in March. They capture 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 deposited that day was the same as the total that was said to be missing, a closer look at the denominations on the original assets sheet six years ago did not match what was deposited at Southern Bank.
Will Rioux: “So, that’s the truth, is that it was never missing that you had it?”
Sheriff Williams: “So you’re asking me if that’s the truth and that’s what I just said to you, and you’re going to follow up and say, is that the truth? Is that what you just said to me?”
Will Rioux: “I’m just double-checking.”
Sheriff Williams: “You’re not just ‘double-checking’. That’s what I said to you earlier, Will. You are predisposed and you come in with this predisposition you’d have on camera that I just said to you that the money was never missing. And then you asked me that a second time.”
Will Rioux: “It’s just a follow-up question.”
Sheriff Williams “It’s not a follow-up question, because you heard what I said. You’re predisposed to believe something other than what the truth is because you’ve heard from him that something sinister is afoot and you’re not even listening to me when I tell you the money was never missing and you’re not listening to me.”
Sheriff Williams’ spending habits have been under the microscope for some time.
The I-TEAM went digging and found more questions about how the sheriff spends taxpayer and federal dollars.
According to county emails, in October of 2021, Sheriff Williams started using Cates Firestone as his agency’s auto shop in a no-bid contract instead of sticking with the county repair shop.
The sheriff’s office wrote in this email “Cates Firestone is significantly less expensive for the Sheriff Department’s needs compared to the county auto shop.”
Although the county can’t compare the shops directly, they did tell the I-TEAM taxpayers are paying double for labor and a markup for parts. The county also says they have no idea what vehicles are being worked on.
The I-TEAM also found Cates Firestone was recently at the center of a federal investigation.
Daniel Cates and Grady Brandon Mobley pleaded guilty in a decades-long illegal gambling operation—where hundreds of thousands of dollars in winnings were illegally funneled through businesses including $ 250 thousand funneled through Cates Firestone.
Cates was sentenced to three years probation. Mobley was sentenced to five years probation and ordered to pay more than $200,000 in restitution.
The I-TEAM obtained federal court documents and found Sheriff Williams was a character witness for Mobley, lobbying for a lesser sentence calling him a “model citizen”.
Campaign records show both the Mobley and Cates families were big contributors to Alfonzo Williams’ campaign for Burke County Sheriff.
Despite it all, Sheriff Williams insists he’s transparent with the public. “I’m probably one of the most transparent folks you’ll ever meet.”
And there’s more.
County documents also show the sheriff’s office is paying rent for the new training building on Sixth Street. We found that rent is being paid to Robert McCafferty who owns the building.
We found that the building is financed by both Cates and Mobley who would be getting the rent money from the Burke County Sheriff’s Office.
Again, this is all happening as Sheriff Williams still has a GBI investigation looming large.
Sheriff Williams is undeterred. “I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to run again in 2024. I’m going to run in 2028, and then I’ll figure it out after 2032 without running in 2032, I’m going to be right here serving the people of our county.”
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