COVINGTON, Ga. — The Newton County government's attorney said Tuesday the FBI indicated it found no criminal wrongdoing during a probe of allegations a county commissioner illegally benefited from leading a nonprofit agency that operated a Covington community center.
The allegations were included in a 2016 audit that stated District 4 Commissioner J.C. Henderson benefited financially from transactions totaling more than $42,000 made on behalf of the county.
County Attorney Megan Martin told the Newton County Board of Commissioners Tuesday that FBI officials contacted County Manager Lloyd Kerr recently and said they wanted to return county financial records they took as part of an investigation into claims made in the audit report.
“There has been no indication whatsoever of any findings of any criminal activity,” Martin said. “We’ve been given no information that we think there’s going to be any prosecutions or anything coming out of this.
“It is our hope that this can bring Commissioner Henderson some relief because this has been a long time coming,” Martin said.
Chairman Marcello Banes told Henderson he was “happy to say that this matter is finally behind you.”
Henderson said he was “accused of stealing and taking money” and “we knew this wasn’t the case.”
“A lot of people walked up on this horseshoe and said that I had did something, and they had no clue that I had did anything,” Henderson said.
“I prayed then for the folks that want ill will on me. I’m still praying for them now,” he said.
“If I, J.C. Henderson, did something, I’m no better than nobody else. I need to be prosecuted just like anybody else.”
He said he paid little attention to the issue and missed the 2016 meeting at which the audit was released because his son was in a coma at Grady Hospital in Atlanta after being seriously injured in a vehicle wreck.
“Then you see the headlines in the paper that I had stole something. I’ve never stole nothing from anybody. Everything I’ve got my entire life — I don’t have that much but I worked like hell to get it and I cherish it.”
David Sawyer of Frazier and Deeter CPAs and Advisors released the forensic audit in November 2016 that alleged Henderson “received preferential and financially beneficial treatment from the county” as an officer and founder of Nelson Heights Community Services Inc.
Sawyer’s report said that more than $42,648 was used for Nelson Heights, including $17,039 in legal fees, and Henderson “received preferential and financially beneficial treatment from Newton County.”
Frazier and Deeter was one of the top 100 largest accounting firms in the nation in 2016.
The audit recommended that “further investigative steps be performed by law enforcement authorities to determine whether or not criminal activity has occurred.”
The Board of Commissioners voted to send the audit to “the proper law enforcement agency” soon after receiving the report. Martin then sent the report to the Newton County District Attorney’s office, and Sawyer sent it to the FBI and GBI.
It stated Nelson Heights Community Center operated as a nonprofit organization established by Henderson under the name Nelson Heights Community Services lnc. The county gave the organization $40,000 per year, as well as accounting, administrative and legal services, to operate. The center was built with SPLOST funds and the county bought the site for the building, the audit stated
Sawyer said in his report at least $42,148 of taxpayer funds “were used for undefined, wasteful or abusive purposes …”
Among the expenditures were $17,039 to then-county attorney Tommy Craig; unexplained operating expenses totaling $2,372 that included advertising and purchasing card transactions and payments to either Henderson or a member of his family; rental revenue totaling $3,000 that was never collected from 2013 to 2016 from Rising Son Christian Church; and $8,500 for a van that included the purchase above Kelley Blue Book value and painting the vehicle before it sat idle.
It also included allegations Henderson and the nonprofit benefited from real estate transactions totaling $11,237 between Nelson Heights and Newton County.
However, Henderson said in 2016 he asked the sheriff and district attorney to look into issues of “giving law enforcement false information.”
A spokesman for the Atlanta office of the FBI declined comment.