I-TEAM: Deeper look at probe of Burke County sheriff

Published: Aug. 24, 2023 at 6:33 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - For months, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s preliminary inquiry into Burke County Sheriff Alfonzo Williams’ travel expenses has continued.

News 12 first raised questions about Williams’ credit card spending two years ago. Now, the I-TEAM is digging deeper and found the sheriff seemingly broke Georgia law.

This all started well before the I-TEAM obtained copies of an audit completed more than a year ago.

The money in question was used to pay for his expenses and travel, which county commissioners say wasn’t his to spend. We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars that came from taxpayers, and not just those in Burke County.

In the summer of 2021, the Burke County Sheriff’s Office was going back and forth with county commissioners. The sheriff wanted control over his budget.

The sheriff told his command staff in a Facebook post that he gained full control of their budget and finances.

But, the I-TEAM requested documents from that meeting. The minutes tell us nothing was agreed upon. “Chairman Kelly stated they would take the matter under advisement, and no action was taken.”

Later that month, on August 19, 2021, Williams received a $50,000 grant from the Waynesboro Housing Authority. The money was to be used to “provide certified law enforcement officers and deputies to cover security at public housing areas.”

According to the audit, the county was never told about the grant. It should have been disclosed because the $50,000 is considered public money, according to the audit.

The guide for Georgia counties says the county commission approves a budget for the sheriff’s office. If the sheriff’s office gets a grant after the budget is approved – the budget is amended to add in grant money. The county audit says that never happened.


What did happen 11 days later, according to IRS records, Williams went to the IRS to apply for an EIN or an employer identification number.

According to the IRS website, an EIN is a tax identification number for businesses.

Williams tells the federal government he is a separate entity from the county, even using the county’s name in the application. This allows Williams to collect taxes on behalf of his employees.

The next month, Williams opens a bank account with the $50,000 grant and opens a line of credit, including a county credit card at First National Bank.

Williams states in the audit he does this “In anticipation of handling the funds,” he says are already his.

This goes against the Georgia code.

According to O.C.G.A 36-80-24, “an elected official of a county shall be prohibited from the use of a government purchasing card or a government credit card unless: Purchases are in accordance with guidelines adopted by the county.”

Williams is supposed to fill out a credit card agreement form that sets guidelines and purchasing procedures. The commission says that was never done and the sheriff never notified the county he opened an account and credit card or about the $50,000 grant.

The very next month, Williams receives a $375,000 Georgia Power Company grant. That grant is to increase traffic enforcement in and around Plant Vogtle.

According to the audit, the county wasn’t notified about that grant either. Instead, the sheriff put $375,000 into his unauthorized bank account.

But in November, the sheriff files this mandamus or lawsuit against the county demanding full control of his budget, despite acting as if he already has control of it. County commissioners agree to give the sheriff control, but only over the number of deputies he hires and what he pays them.

It wasn’t until April of 2022 that the county found out about the sheriff’s unauthorized bank account, unauthorized county credit card, the $425,000 in grants, and an account that was still open and being used by the sheriff three months after a judge ruled against him.

While commissioners felt they were being kept in the dark, an independent accounting firm was shedding light on the sheriff’s spending spree. More than $40,000 went to pay off his unauthorized credit card.

Expenses included meals, hotel stays, and travel to meetings where the sheriff was paid to speak to the organization with or on behalf of the “Leaders Helping Leaders Network.”

According to the audit and pictures from social media, Williams traveled out of state at least ten times in six months going to places like Tennessee, Arkansas, Massachusetts, and Florida.

The sheriff confirms in the audit he did get paid to attend those events while using that unauthorized county credit card and grant money to cover some of his expenses. We reached out to Leaders Helping Leaders about his pay and if he’s reimbursed.

In an email, the company tells the I-TEAM, “We are currently cooperating with the GBI investigator. As a private company, we do not disclose our contractual information to the media.”

After the I-TEAM reached out to the Leader Helping Leaders Network, Williams was taken off the staff list of the website.

Bank statements the I-TEAM obtained show the sheriff also spent more than $200,000 of grant money for events to boost his popularity. That included a turkey giveaway, a toy drive, and paychecks for summer interns, including his daughter.

On July 14, 2022, the sheriff was ordered by the commission to turn over the remaining amount in that unauthorized bank account. The sheriff wrote a check to the commission for $217,914.16, zeroing out the account.

In this timeline – between the moment the county was ruled the fiscal agent by Judge Stone to the time the sheriff turned over the account it had been nearly six months.

According to bank statements during that time frame, the sheriff continued to use the unauthorized bank account and credit card.

The I-TEAM requested several interviews with Burke County Commissioners about the sheriff’s spending habits. We have not heard back yet.