UPDATE | DA: No indictments in case over city-owned equipment used in Lincoln County

This is a scan of a photo of the mini-excavator that the city alleges an employee used on...
This is a scan of a photo of the mini-excavator that the city alleges an employee used on private land in Lincoln County.(WRDW)
Published: May. 31, 2017 at 2:38 PM EDT
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News 12 NBC 26 @ 6:00 / Tuesday, June 27, 2017

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- It's been three months since these pictures of Richmond County equipment being used in Lincoln County came to light. On June 1, the District Attorney took over the case, and brought in a grand jury to review the investigation.

Everyone involved, from former Environmental Services Director, Mark Johnson, to the other employees and deputies involved had to testify and answer questions by the district attorney and the grand jury. The jury decided not to indict anyone. Instead they made a presentment, which is report of misdeeds by officials.

Their findings are that Johnson told city employee McKinnly Williams to help a contractor, who used to work at the landfill, on a private job two counties away. Williams brought another employee without Johnson knowing.

The employees in Lincolnton were working on Augusta's dime, and Johnson said they were essentially working remotely. Because the director gave them permission to be out there, the grand jury could not find any way to prosecute for theft of wages.

It continues, Johnson told the employees to take the mini-excavator, but he thought it belonged to a deputy who worked at the landfill. Because the employees thought it was the private excavator, the grand jury cannot prosecute for theft of equipment, gasoline, or the hours on the machine.

The grand jury's conclusion is that it appears employees violated county policy, and it is concerning employees were getting paid by Richmond County taxpayers for work two counties over, but it's not criminal.

Mark Johnson officially resigned on Tuesday. Williams retired in the beginning of April.

The city administrator's office said they had not gotten the findings yet so they did not want to comment. The city's internal investigation is still going.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Nobody will be indicted in the investigation of an employee's alleged use of city-owned equipment on private Lincoln County land.

Augusta District Attorney Natalie Paine had a grand jury review the case, and found no criminal intention.

"It does appear that employees violated county policy, but we can't enforce county policy," the presentment stated.

The sheriff's office also investigated and found no criminal wrongdoing.

Read the document in its entirety at the bottom of this article.

News 12 NBC 26 @ 11:00 / Tuesday, June 20, 2017

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- City leaders still waiting for some answers on why city equipment was in Lincoln County.

On Tuesday they heard from the man who sparked the investigation, Al Gray. He told city leaders they need to be aggressive with the case.

The pieces are still coming together on why Richmond County equipment was used in Lincoln County. Nearly three months later, it seems all the commissioners agree they want answers.

"I agree with it. I would like to see this investigated locally, right here in Augusta, we've got a sheriff," Commissioner Grady Smith said.

The sheriff's office investigated and found no criminal wrongdoing. There are deputies named in the investigation as well. Theirs is not the only local investigation.

"Well at this point in time as I understand the D.A. has had this since June 1st. I anticipate with her knowing what's there that we'll get some findings in the next couple of days or maybe next week," Commissioner Ben Hasan said.

The mayor says he hasn't heard if that's the case from the District Attorney. City leaders say they don't need another agency, the GBI, to investigate.

"We don't need to go to Atlanta to get something done. Do what's right, do what people depend on and that's what we'll do," Smith said.

Now, the former Environmental Services Director is officially off the payroll. Last week Mark Johnson was still on paid leave.

For now the city is moving forward with what they can, while they hope for some answers so they can take action.

"So extending it out much longer, let's find out the facts, deal with it, deal with whatever we got to deal with and that's where the ball bounces," Commissioner Grady Smith said.

News 12 NBC 26 @ 6:00 / Wednesday, June 14, 2017

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- An investigation by the sheriff's office is shedding some light into how Richmond County owned equipment wound up in Lincoln County.

On March 17th Richmond County deputies were told a county owned mini excavator was being used in Lincoln County. Investigators later found the equipment at a job site in Richmond County, but deputies kept investigating.

"How many workers went up there, how much work was done, what equipment was carried up there, how long that equipment was up there," Augusta Commissioner Marion Williams said.

Deputies learned some of those answers. Statements from the employees involved show the equipment was in Lincoln County starting on March 8th until March 17th.

"I think it's very serious that those guys took equipment up into another county, and they were getting paid like they were doing work right here in Augusta," Williams said.

Two Richmond County employees told investigators they were on the county's clock and their boss, Mark Johnson, knew about it. According to the statements Mac Williams, who later retired, borrowed another employee to help with his work in Lincoln County for about a day and a half.

Johnson told investigators he knew Williams was going to Lincoln County, and instructed him to clock in one day and leave so he could assess the worker taking over for Williams.

"I understand that this is an on going investigation, but I think tax payers need to know that we're not letting this go, that we're not sleeping on this," he said.

Deputies say this investigation showed no criminal wrongdoing. But now the city is investigating and the DA is reviewing it. At least one commissioner says they need even more eyes on it.

If the equipment use is unauthorized it can be an ethics violation and allowing an employee to violate a policy is also a violation. Both can mean suspension or termination, though none of the employees involved have faced any consequences yet.

News 12 NBC 26 @ 11:00 / Tuesday, June 13, 2017

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Back in March someone snapped pictures of city equipment all the way in Lincoln County. Now in mid-June commissioners are still waiting on answers on what happened two counties over.

"It started out where we thought a rogue employee was behind this and now more accurate facts are hitting the ground," Commissioner Ben Hasan said.

That employee retired in April. His boss, Mark Johnson, turned in his resignation last week. Johnson's still on administrative leave with pay because he hasn't accepted the commissions terms. He can collect a check for up to 21 days after the commission gave their terms. He gets paid leave because this is an on going investigation.

"Versus this is a questionable situation that needs some inquiry before a decision is made," Commissioner Dennis Williams said.

The city administrator says she doesn't have all the answers on who was involved, what equipment, and for how long. The District Attorney is also reviewing the case.

"So she has her portion of it, where she's going to look and see if there were any criminal acts there. That's not all she can also look at it and see if any of our policy was violated which we already know for all intents and purposes," Commissioner Hasan said.

Commissioners also want answers on if the workers were on the county's clock when they were working in Lincoln County. For now it's just a wait and see.

"We just have to wait you know, because that's the process," Commissioner Williams said.

Until Johnson accepts the terms of his resignation he will keep getting paid until the 21 days are up. If any terms are changed the 21 days start over again. The commission is offering him three months of severance. In the mean time, the deputy Environmental Services Director, Laura Devitto, is the interim director.

News 12 NBC 26 @ 6:00 / Monday, June 5, 2017

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- A lot of questions being asked on how pieces of Augusta-Richmond County equipment wound up doing work on private property in Lincoln County. The city says there wasn't any criminal activity.

Back in March, Al Gray was walking his dog when he spotted Richmond County equipment doing work on private property in Lincoln County.

"I was very surprised to find what I believe is a fraud involving Richmond County going on in my own backyard," he said.

He took some pictures and started asking questions to figure out what an Augusta truck, mini-excavator, and trailer were doing in Lincoln County. He asked Brad Owens, who does a lot of work with the city, to help out.

"Stealing is wrong, stealing is immoral, stealing is illegal. And this is stealing and so we handed it over to law enforcement in Lincoln County and Richmond County," Owens said.

A statement from the city says a now retired environmental services employee allegedly used the equipment, which is owned by the sheriff's office. The Richmond County Sheriff's Office investigated to see if there was any criminal wrongdoing and found none. A statement from the city says the employee, McKinley Williams, had filed for retirement back in February with a planned retirement date of April 1, 2017. The city administrator was briefed on the investigation on March 30.

"It's kind of interesting that us in the outlying counties in Lincoln County can get our roads rocked and graded courtesy of Richmond County," Gray said.

The equipment is usually stored near the sheriff's office firing range, near the landfill. How someone was able to take it to Lincoln County opens a lot of questions.

"So either there's no access control of this equipment which there should be because we expect these people to be good stewards of our tax paying money or this is a frequent occurrence in something that happens all the time," Owens said.

The commission is set to talk about this tomorrow but it's not clear what decisions will be made. We'll be sure to keep you updated on air and online.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

RICHMOND COUNTY, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- The City of Augusta is investigating an employee's alleged use of city-owned equipment on private Lincoln County land.

According to the City Administrator, the incident happened back in March. The Richmond County Sheriff's Office conducted an investigation to determine if any criminal wrongdoing was involved, and determined there was not.

Investigators referred the case to former Deputy Administrator Ted Rhinehart, who along with Environmental Services Director Mark Johnson, briefed Administrator Janice Allen Jackson on March 30.

Former city employee McKinley Williams, who is now retired, is suspected of using a city truck and trailer to transport a mini-excavator to private land outside of Richmond County. The mini-excavator was owned by the Sheriff's Office, and was typically stored in an area near the Sheriff's Firing Range near the city landfill.

Williams had filed retirement paperwork in February with a planned retirement date of April 1.

Grand Jury Special Presentment regarding ARC Equipment use in Lincoln County