Editorial

There are a lot of details within the 100-plus pages of an indictment dismissed earlier this week concerning a group of people accused of defrauding the Floyd County Schools system.

There are 1,659 of what are referred to as “predicate acts” illustrated in the tome. These are the separate crimes which, taken in their entirety, are used to show the pattern of racketeering by a group of people. This is essentially what Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations charges address, a number of potentially small offenses by a group of people.

The first paragraph under Count 1 titled RICO Conspirators reads:

“Derry Richardson began his employment with the Floyd County Board of Education (FCBOE) in February 2005 as the Assistant Facility Director. In 2007, Richardson was promoted to the position of Facilities Director with an average yearly gross income of $80,314.00. Prior to Richardson’s employment with the FCBOE he was employed with Johnson Controls Inc. (JCI) from 1997 until 2005, where he ultimately held the position as Project Manager. While employed with JCI, Richardson acted as the project manager for several FCBOE projects, to include: Alto Park School, Cave Spring School, and Garden Lakes Elementary School. Derry Richardson, who was the leader and mastermind of the scheme, is responsible for unlawfully taking and orchestrating the theft of $6,331,135.”

Flipping through the document, there are a surprising amount of purchases from the Apple store as well as Amazon. One purchase through Apple was for $5,012.95. Others go as little as a $1.71 purchase from Amazon.

Many of the larger expenditures show up in a section titled fraudulent contract projects. These figures range considerably, but the low end is much higher. From a $500 listing for McHenry Primary’s gym to a $360,000 figure listed as New Coosa High School projects.

The detail this indictment lacked was a small but essential one — where the crimes occurred. For that reason Floyd County Superior Court Judge Jack Niedrach approved Floyd County District Attorney Leigh Patterson’s request to drop that indictment — and another one that lacked the word “True” and instead had a “T” for true bill, essentially the grand jury’s official approval that the case should go forward.

A minor detail? Yes. An important one? The lawyers involved certainly seem to think so.

Why all the bother? Well, here goes.

A prosecutor has two chances to correctly indict a person if those indictments are thrown out by the court. After that, the case is over. No three strikes here, only two.

However, if the prosecutor realizes there is an issue and decides to drop the indictment they’re not limited to those two strikes. They could potentially re-indict a case numerous times.

The attorneys for the people charged in the Floyd County Schools RICO case, of course, wanted to see their clients benefit from the two strikes. If they could convince the court to quash, a.k.a. dismiss, those two indictments, their clients go free. Prosecutors, of course, didn’t want to see the charges dropped because of what amounts to be a detail left out of the indictment.

Even more importantly, our community doesn’t want to see those charges dropped because of an error.

Whether or not the people accused in this case are guilty isn’t the issue, they deserve their day in court and whichever way this case plays out, our community would like to see the resolution.

We’d like to see the DA get the new indictment ready and this case together as soon as possible. There have been a lot of delays: a lengthy investigation, the civil case which involved the auctioning off of property and then a recusal motion which caused a few delays. But it’s time to get this thing up and running toward a resolution.

This brings us to the amount of time which has passed since the crimes were reported and the first arrests. On Oct. 7, 2014, then FCS superintendent Jeff McDaniel reported information to Floyd County police that several of the defendants were taking school funds.

Several, unheard as of yet, motions filed in the case allege many of the charges aren’t applicable since they exceeded the statute of limitations. The statute of limitations for many of the felony counts are four years. For the RICO counts it is five years.

Whether or not that is the case will be for the courts to determine, but the amount of time this case has stretched out seems to be wearing thin the patience of many in this community.

But while some are barking for blood, we’re not.

The justice system may have its flaws, but it can and does work. There are safeguards to attempt to ensure people get a fair trial and the people involved in this case certainly should get a fair trial, regardless of the accusations.

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