By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Forensic audit stirs reactions
Placeholder Image

The FBI, Georgia Bureau of Investigation or Newton County District Attorney have not released any findings from a forensic audit of Newton County operations conducted by David Sawyer of Frazier and Deeter but fallout from the more than 200-page report has surfaced in Newton County.

More than a week after the report, which was sent to the previously mentioned authorities, was made public, former-county Tommy Craig criticized the report and issued a challenge to the board of commissioners (BOC), District 4 Commissioner J.C. Henderson said the report was full of “lies” and Newton County Sheriff Ezell Brown directed his anger over criticism of his use of Craig at the board.

“I’m here for four more years,” said Brown as he took the podium before a proclamation of a memorial highway for late Deputy Justin White during Tuesday’s board of commissioners (BOC) meeting at the Newton County Historic Courthouse. “I’m the Sheriff of this county, a duly elected constitutional officer who has every right to run my office as I see fit. Whether you like the decisions I make or not it’s not your choice. It’s not.”

Prior to Brown being called up by the BOC an Atlanta TV station interviewed him on his arrival to the meeting room concerning Craig and the audit. That, he said, caused him to speak his mind toward the board.

“I thought this would be a sobering moment,” Brown told the board. “To be met for something like this, it’s wrong and I don’t appreciate it and I never will appreciate it. We’ve gotten accolades after accolades, and just this past Monday we received a national accreditation. What have you received? What have you done?

Brown and other constitutional officers of Newton County continued to use Craig as their attorney after the BOC decided to part ways with him after 39 years in November of 2015. While serving as the BOC’s attorney, Craig’s bills were frequently questioned by the public and his actions concerning the proposed Bear Creek Reservoir project were called “financially detrimental to the taxpayers of Newton County,” by Sawyer.

Sawyer noted $25 million in financial damages to Newton County, much stemming from Craig’s activities as the county’s attorney and water consultant, the report said. Sawyer also noted financial damages of $11,853 from the Recreation Commission, $42,648 from Nelson Heights Community Center, $4,123,474 from the finance department and a to-be-determined amount from the county’s landfill and solid waste.

Craig’s name was mentioned in the report on Nelson Heights as well as the landfill/solid waste, along with Bear Creek.
In a statement, printed in its entirety by Craig in this week’s The Covington News, Newton County’s former attorney said the report “reveals David Sawyer and his staff, and, to the extent she reviewed his work, the County Attorney, are breathtakingly incompetent to review the Bear Creek water supply project.”

Craig said Saywer was “ignorant of Federal and State laws and regulations, like the Clean Water Act … has no firsthand experience with the federal and state permitting process, environmental mitigation for wetland and stream losses and Georgia law governing the real estate appraisal and land acquisition process, including the process of negotiation and condemnation.”

Craig said Sawyer was not interested in the truth, and during Tuesday’s meeting Henderson said his report was full of “lies.”

Henderson, who said he never spoke with Sawyer, claims a 501(c)3 cited in the report for the Nelson Heights Community Center wasn’t for the center, but rather his own personal 501(c)3 —Nelson Heights Community Service Inc., used to purchase bicycles for children.

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.”

Henderson added an agenda item to Tuesday’s meeting just to discuss his arguments against the audit’s findings, particularly the 501(c)3 Sawyer used for the center.

“It doesn’t have a 501(c)3, it never had one,” Henderson said. “What I’m saying is they came in and printed some lies. You took my 501(c)3 and made it part of this report so you can bolster your allegations about me.
“I think David Sawyer should be arrested and so should my fellow commissioners.

Henderson said he asked the sheriff and district attorney to look into issues of “giving law enforcement false information.”

As far as the report being sent to authorities, Craig said he “would welcome visits from the GBI and FBI, so I can provide them with information about the Board’s own misconduct regarding solid waste, transportation and unlawful racial discrimination.”

“I say without fear of contradiction: The Board will regret the day it sends state or federal law enforcement officials to see me,” Craig said in his statement.

Other than Henderson, commissioners did not comment on the audit during Tuesday’s meeting, as they wait possible word from law enforcement agencies.