This article is part of an ongoing investigation as to how Local Victim Assistance (LVAP) funds are used in the Atlantic Judicial Circuit, which entails Bryan, Evans, Liberty, Long, McIntosh, and Tattnall counties. You can find the first article in the series here.

After it was discovered that Bryan County directs all of their money to the District Attorney’s Office to pay salaries, despite having a local, Bryan County-based victim assistance service provider in Richmond Hill, an examination of all of the counties in the judicial circuit revealed inconsistent victim assistance fund management, disorganized record keeping, and funds directed to organizations the CJCC does not list as certified providers. 

NOTE: Four of the six counties in the judicial circuit do not have LVAP providers within their county boundaries.

District Attorney Tom Durden was on the Liberty County LVAP Council in 2012 when the Council unanimously voted to approve funding to four Liberty County entities – two of which are taxpayer funded – after the Council announced the importance of allocating funds to providers within the county to best serve victims. The District Attorney’s Office has since been influential in ensuring 100% of the funds from the other 5 counties go to his office. 

The office claims a reduction in funds from the counties would adversely impact their budget, but records obtained by AllOnGeorgia indicate otherwise, with the DA’s office collecting more funds than any other certified LVAP entity. 

The Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC) has certified 6 entities to receive LVAP funds in the Atlantic Judicial Circuit, which include:

  • Atlantic Judicial Circuit Victim Witness, serving 6 counties. [the specific agency listed is the district attorney’s office]
  • Georgia Legal Services Program, Inc. (Previously Underserved) based in Atlanta [legal services]
  • Hospice Savannah, Inc. based in Savannah [counseling services]
  • Helen’s Haven in Hinesville [CAC’
  • The Cottage/Serenity Hill, Inc. in Richmond Hill [Victim advocacy, sexual assault program, medical services]
  • Tri-County Protective Agency in Hinesville [Domestic Violence Shelter]

The same Open Records Request was filed in all of the counties seeking:

  1. Documents that reflect LVAP funds collected for FY 2015 through FY 2019;
  2. Reports filed by the county governing entity with the CJCC for FY 2015 through FY 2019;
  3. Documents that reflect where county commissioners decided to direct LVAP funds;
  4. Audits that reflect accounting for LVAP funds.

Bryan County

Bryan County’s handling of LVAP funds are detailed at length in this article. Over the last ten fiscal years, almost $385,000 is unaccounted for, county reports to the state differ by more than $100,000, and the county routinely exceeded the state allowance for retention of allocated funds.

Despite the failure to comply with state reporting requirements by the District Attorney’s Office, the county continues to send 100% of their victim assistance funds to the office.

Evans County

Evans County previously did not direct the money collected to any organization but instead left it all in a county fund. Upon learning the funds needed to be directed somewhere, a lump sum was awarded to the DA’s office and the county has been sending the funds monthly as prescribed by law. The county collects somewhere between $10,000 and $15,000 annually in LVAP funds. 

The 5% of the LVAP funds permitted to be retained by the county for administrative duties is not held by Evans County either.

Liberty County

Per a 2012 resolution approved by Commissioners, 25% of the funds go to the District Attorney’s Office for the ‘Victim Witness Program,’ 40% to the State Court Victim Witness Program,’ 25% to the Tri-County Protective Agency, and 10% to Helen’s Haven. 

According to the CJCC list of certified LVAP recipients, the State Court Victim Witness Program is not an approved entity, only the district attorney’s office is as evidenced by the agency type. Additionally, most crimes related to the victim assistance are felonies in Superior Court, but it is worth noting that that the state court solicitor serves on the LVAP Council in Liberty County which designates where the funds are directed. 

Additionally, much like Bryan County, Liberty County’s accounting of LVAP funds collected varies greatly from the reports sent to the state. The differences cannot be explained by retention of 5% of the funds for administrative duties as the discrepancies over a three year period total more than $140,000. 

In minutes from a February 2012 meeting, the Liberty County LVAP Council, which includes District Attorney Tom Durden, noted in their approval of funds that “the importance of certified programs actually being located in the county to best offer services to victims…” was instrumental in their fund allocation. The District Attorney’s Office is located in Liberty County. 

Also of note, the funds report by Liberty County do not match what the District Attorney reports to the state or what the District Attorney reported to Bryan County.

Long County

Records provided by Long County Superior Court Clerk Sherry Long indicate that 100% of the funds go to the Atlantic Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office from the clerk’s office. Long told AllOnGeorgia that the request for semi-annual CJCC reports was “unapplicable” because the court clerk sends funds directly to the district attorney’s office, noting that Kelly Jackson and Samantha Ashdown are fully responsible for the disbursement of the funds. The Georgia Criminal Justice Coordinating Council website says otherwise, however. This is outlined in OCGA § 15-21-132(c) excerpt details that reports must be filed by the governing county EVEN IF the funds are sent directly to the district attorney’s office.

The 5% of the LVAP funds permitted to be retained by the county for administrative duties is not held by Long County either.

The county has not reported any of the funds in their annual audits, citing it was “unapplicable.”

McIntosh County

McIntosh has the most inconsistent recordkeeping among the six counties. The County offered only a three page ledger in response to the Open Records Request with four revenue amounts highlighted totaling $570,936.60 for FY 2015 through FY 2019. No further information was provided and the CJCC reports were not made available. .

The county attorney told AllOnGeorgia in an email in the first week of July that the money was directed to “the VAP operated by the McIntosh County Sheriff’s Department.”

$56,376.64 is used in the calculations for McIntosh below as it is among the highlighted revenue items. 

Tattnall County 

100% of the funds are sent to the District Attorney’s Office every year. The 5% of the LVAP funds permitted to be retained by the county for administrative duties is not held by Tattnall County either.

Funds collected are outlined in the chart below.

TOTAL LVAP FUNDS COLLECTED ACROSS 6 COUNTIES 

Note: Total amount is lower than actual collected because of incomplete information provided.

Evans, Liberty, and Long fiscal years end June 30.  McIntosh & Tattnall fiscal years end  on September 30.  Bryan County numbers reflect totals reported to the state as received by the District Attorney’s Office. 

TOTAL LVAP FUNDS SENT TO DISTRICT ATTORNEY’S OFFICE SINCE FY 2016

Note: Total amount is lower than actual collected because of incomplete information provided. 

With conservative estimates, the District Attorney’s Office has received 73% of the total collected funds from the region in addition to the annual appropriations from both the county and state.

Of greatest concern is reports that the district attorney’s office is using the money to pay salaries instead of providing actual victim services like counseling, medical exams, crisis intervention, and forensic interviews. 

An Open Records Request has been filed with the District Attorney’s Office seeking records that indicate what tangible services are being provided to victims in the 6-county radius. AllOnGeorgia will release the information once it is made available. 

The Council Members of the Georgia CJCC are as follows:

  • Jay Neal – Executive Director
  • Homer Bryson – Director of GEMA
  • Nicole Berger – Prevention Educator for the Georgia Center for Child Advocacy
  • Jacqueline Bunn – State Board of Pardons and Paroles
  • Cynthia Clanton – Director of the GA Judicial Council’s Administrative Office of the Court
  • Brian DiNapoli – Grants Consultant for the State Housing Trust Fund for the Homeless
  • LaSonja Fillingame – City Manager of Union City
  • Ron Freeman – Sheriff of Forsyth County
  • C. Andrew Fuller – Judge, Northeastern Judicial Circuit of Georgia
  • Liz Hausmann – Fulton County Commissioner
  • Joe Hood – Georgia Department of Community Health
  • Scott Maurer –  Counselor for a residential youth treatment facility
  • Avery Niles – Director Department of Juvenile Justice
  • Jay Sanders – Assistant Commissioner of Inmate Services – GA Dept of Corrections
  • Juliette Scales – Fulton County juvenile court judge
  • Erika Shields – Chief of the City of Atlanta Police Department
  • Peter Skandalakis – Asst. District Attorney Coweta Judicial Circuit of Georgia
  • Stacey Suber-Drake – Attorney, GA Department of Education
  • Timothy Ward – Commissioner of the Department of Corrections
  • Brenda Weaver – Chief Superior Court Judge of the Appalachian Judicial Circuit
  • Jerry Willis – Former Coast Guard member
  • Thomas Worthy – VP Governmental and External Affairs
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Jessica Szilagyi
Jessica Szilagyi is a Statewide Contributor for AllOnGeorgia.com. She focuses primarily on state and local politics as well as agricultural news. She has a background in Political Science, with a focus in local government, and has a Master of Public Administration from the University of Georgia. She's a "Like It Or Not" contributor for Fox5 in Atlanta and has two blogs of her own: The Perspicacious Conservative and "Hair Blowers to Lawn Mowers."

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