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Chattooga Local News

Stolen Charity Funds Case Stalled Behind GBI Backlog

Organization leaders from the Santa in Uniform program, city officials, and countless Chattooga County residents are awaiting ANY developments on the case of the stolen Christmas charity funds that has expanded to include other funds. According to law enforcement spokesman, Lt. Brian Ozment, they should be prepared to wait much longer. Floyd County prosecutors have taken over the case after Chattooga County DA’s recused themselves due to a conflict of interest. It turns out that the DA’s office could suffer some financial fallout due to the case and therefore is a potential victim of the crime. And now, due to a massive back log of cases within the GBI, the Grinch who stole Christmas case will sit on a shelf for months before the investigation moves forward.
Many residents speculated that back door dealings were underway, but it looks like the actual problem could be far less sinister, but just as disappointing for those looking to close an ugly chapter for the city and the Santa in Uniform volunteers.
Stacy Fountain, the Summerville Municipal Court Clerk was suspended without pay, and then resigned as a result of the missing money. Fountain, an 18-year veteran of the police department, was in charge of the Santa in Uniform bank account, among others. The investigation is centered around Fountain because she had access to the accounts.
Lt. Brian Ozment, Investigations/Training of the Summerville Police Department issued the following statement concerning the City theft case:

Our local District Attorney’s Office has recused themselves from the case because they could potentially be considered a victim since funds were stolen from the Police Department’s Drug Forfeiture Fund.  The District Attorney’s Office prepares and argues civil drug forfeiture cases on behalf of the Police Department and by are law entitled to 10% of the proceeds obtained through forfeitures.
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After the local District Attorney’s Office recused themselves from the case, they sent notice to the Georgia’s Attorney General’s Office who in turn assigned Leigh Patterson, the District Attorney of Floyd County, to prosecute the case.  Ms. Patterson spoke with Special Agent Steve Rogers, the GBI Agent assigned to the case, and wanted the GBI’s forensic auditors with their Financial Investigation Unit to provide a financial analysis of the records and case.

According to the Assistant Special Agent in Charge Joe Montgomery of the GBI’s Region 1 Office (which services our area) all of the cases referred to the GBI’s Financial Investigation Unit take approximately 1 year for the Unit to even begin to review the documentation/records because of the backlog of cases assigned to them.  According to ASAC Montgomery the Financial Investigations Unit is staffed with only 6 or 7 individuals to cover the entire State of Georgia.

The Police Department has turned over all the evidence and documents requested by the GBI to them.  At the GBI’s request we have also reviewed all of the accounts affected and provided a report to the GBI of those transactions deemed suspicious or fraudulent.   Several weeks ago Agent Rogers concluded his interviews with all of the potential witnesses in the case.  According to Agent Rogers he is only waiting for a copy of the City’s drug fund audit along with some records in possession of the Floyd County District Attorney before he sends them to the Financial Investigations Unit.

Two factors that are going to prolong this case is the involvement of the GBI’s specialized Financial Unit which will take a minimum of one year before receiving their results and the time needed for District Attorney Patterson’s thorough evaluation and of the complicated case which will rely heavily on financial records and take some time to prepare for prosecution.

In my estimation it will probably be 1 ½ years or a little longer before an arrest or indictment may take place.  As you know, the arrest/indictment is only just the beginning of the judicial process and with the various scenarios (plea vs trial and the fact that jury trials only occur twice per year, etc.) it may be 2 years or more before the case is totally resolved.

But as far as the City goes, we have done and provided everything requested by the GBI with the exception of the copy of the audit of our Drug Fund (which according to Jessica hasn’t been finalized by the auditors yet.)

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