Eds Note: To read more on the forensic accounting report click for a report on the Bear Creek Reservoir project, here; read about the report on the landfill, here; read about the report on SPLOST/Impact fees, here; read about the report on Nelson Heights Community Center, here.
A forensic audit performed on various departments within Newton County government revealed that actions resulted in financial damages of more than $25 million, not including interest, litigation expenses, general damages and punitive damages, to Newton County taxpayers.
The audit, compiled by David Sawyer of Frazier and Deeter CPAs and Advisors, was released Monday evening, around two weeks after the Newton County Board of Commissioners (BOC) first saw the document. At that time, the BOC broke from their executive session to vote to send the audit to “the proper law enforcement agency.”
The report has been sent to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Georgia Bureau of Investigation by Sawyer and to the Newton County District Attorney by Newton County Attorney Megan Martin.
A section concerning the recreation department, has been redacted due to the fact Georgia law that “allows an agency to withhold a document for up to 10 days after a completed investigation related to the suspension of, termination of, or complaint against a public officer or employee,” according to Martin. The Recreation Commission Board of Directors will conduct a special called meeting Monday evening, and that portion of the document will be made available Dec. 8.
None of the other portions of the financial report are expected to result in a personnel action, according to Martin.
The parts of the report made public examined spending in the Nelson Heights Community Center, the proposed Bear Creek Reservoir, landfill and convenience centers and Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) and Impact Fees.
More in-depth looks at those areas can be found in this week’s The Covington News.
In the Nelson Heights Community Center section of the more than 120-page document, the Bear Creek Reservoir section and SPLOST/Impact Fees section, Sawyer recommended further investigation by law enforcement authorities.
The county has already taken steps to correct some of the issues discovered by Sawyer in these areas, such as changing its purchasing policy, changing personnel and further explaining to Sawyer its practices.
Concerning Bear Creek, Sawyer’s report heavily mentioned former County Attorney William “Tommy” Craig and “misleading actions, financial loss, damage and harm of more than $25 million to Newton County taxpayers.”
Craig, who was let go by Newton County a year ago, said the report is meant “to destroy my life and my career,” and that the county failed in examining other departments.
“County Manager Lloyd Kerr says the County does not have enough money to complete the investigation by reviewing all County operations,” Craig said in a statement.
Frazier and Deeter was hired by Newton County early this year, and began working on examining Newton County’s finances in March. Up through Oct. 31, the county has paid Frazier and Deeter $244,800.
Sawyer is a partner with Frazier and Deeter, one of the top 100 largest accounting firms in the nation, and was named the Top 25 best managed U.S. Accounting Firms and a Gold Medalist of Top American CPA Firms and an Accounting All-star by Bowman’s Accounting Report and Inside Public Accounting. Sawyer has served as a consulting or testifying expert in 300 investigations involving fraud, corruption and financial damages, and has been an expert witness in over 20 cases. Sawyer is also a licensed detective in the state of Georgia.
The county gets audited yearly by Wayne Tamplin, but not in an in-depth capacity. In 2017, the county’s auditor will be put out to bid in accordance with its recently revised purchasing policy. The purchasing policy has undergone changes throughout this year to in an effort to clean up some of the county’s finances, even before Frazier and Deeter were hired.
Frazier and Deeter, which was recommended by attorney Jarrard and Davis, were retained early this year after the board of commissioners requested the departments which were investigated, and other such as public works be looked at more closely.
“I think we all had some hunches stuff was going on and we acted a year ago to deal with,” Schulz said. “We stopped the Bear Creek reservoir when we knew it wasn’t going anywhere. A few weeks ago we stopped working with Eco Tech. We fired Mr. Craig a year ago and put a new purchasing policy in place.
“We’ve been taking action steps for over a year now. What happens with the audit is it connects the dots for all of us and it changes it from hunches to accurate information.”
Schulz, along with Douglas said that the money spent on finding out this “accurate information” was worth the more than $200,000 spent by the county since March.
“Oh yeah; Absolutely,” Douglas said.
“I think it’s been very well spent if $200,000 can save us $25 million in the future,” Schulz said.
Schulz will be one of three current BOC members on the board starting in January, along with District 4 Commissioner J.C. Henderson and District 2 Commissioner Lanier Sims. What the board does with the report in the new year will be discussed after new commissioners Stan Edwards, District 1, and Ronnie Cowan, District 5, along with Chair Marcello Banes.
“At this point, we’ve given it to the right authorities, and we’ll let them take it from there,” Sims said. “We really need to discuss it in a retreat as a new board how to move on from this.”