Editorial

Just like that it’s over.

If it were a scripted storyline, the resolution of a criminal case against numerous people who stole a massive amount of money from our county school system would be, at best, described as anticlimactic — but it’s what we needed to move on.

Overall, the sentences weren’t as harsh as they might have been if the case had gone to trial. Many of the co-conspirators got house arrest or probation while Derry Richardson, the man who police and prosecutors described as the ringleader in the group, got 20 years in prison and the same amount on probation after his release.

But a quick and final resolution was best resolution in order to get this behind us as a community. There are no appeals to previous judgments in the case and there are not forthcoming appeals — it’s over.

There was a very real possibility the case could have dragged on for several more years.

For starters, the court system is facing a virtual tidal wave of a case backlog once normal court operations are cleared to resume by the state supreme court. On top of that, we’ve seen our courthouse shut down for weeks because of the coronavirus and there’s no guarantee that wouldn’t happen again at an inopportune moment.

During sentencing, Judge Jack Niedrach made the statement that the school system could really have used that money during the Great Recession. He remarked upon a period of time when school systems faced cuts and teachers were heavily furloughed and, here in Floyd County, fired.

Let’s not forget the reduction in force program in 2013, when over 120 county school system employees lost their jobs. This was even before the investigation began and during that time period, investigators have said that’s when the theft really ramped up.

That’s some pretty callous behavior.

Many, if not most, of the people who lost their jobs because of those thefts were eventually hired back, but the trauma caused and the trust lost in the system are impossible to put a dollar value on.

It’s a terrible thing to steal from our education system. But continuing to do so when there is no question that teachers are losing their jobs and students are going underrepresented — so you can play in your new pool house when you get back home from expensive hunting trips all on the taxpayers’ dime — is really, really abhorrent.

The parasitic nature of these thefts didn’t stop at just stealing when they thought they could get away with it. There were efforts to make sure the money pipeline continued. There were donations to pro-education sales tax groups. Most of those funds are allocated for construction projects which would have kept the money flowing for the thieves.

It’s good to hear reports that nearly all the six-plus millions of dollars stolen have been recovered. Let’s not forget the costs to recover that money, easily years and likely thousands of man hours spent investigating and prosecuting the crimes.

We would like to mirror the thanks sent out by Floyd County District Attorney Leigh Patterson. We thank everyone for all the hard work of uncovering the crimes and then moving forward with the complicated task of sorting out the complexities of the massive criminal and civil cases.

We would like to offer thanks to the Floyd County Police Department, including former Chief Bill Shiflett, Chief Mark Wallace and Maj. Jeff Jones. There were many others in the department who also provided invaluable help to the investigation, including the department’s clerical staff, especially the criminal investigation division’s clerk Leslie Glover. Compiling the mountain of data was a task spread out among the department, and several FCPD interns also assisted in compiling an enormous amount of financial information: Carter Griffin, Darcy Criollo and Xinia Camacho Smith.

We also thank the agents from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation who aided in working on the case.

Stepping outside the sphere of law enforcement, a couple of local lawyers with McRae, Smith, Peek, Harman & Monroe, LLP, tackled the task of recouping lost funds. Brian Bojo was appointed as the receiver in the civil RICO case and took on the task, along with his law partner Chris Jackson, with a single-minded devotion. Let’s not forget auctioneer Lou Dempsey, who helped recoup some of the stolen funds with a massive auction of the ill-gotten goods, and the Rome Exchange Club and the Coosa Valley Fair Association for the use of the fairgrounds as the auction site.

Thank you to the Floyd County Board of Education, employees and current and former superintendents, who made sure the school system continued to function despite the financial blow leveled by the thieves.

Last, but certainly not least, we’d like to offer thanks to our DA and the staff of the district attorney’s office, especially Martha Jacobs, Emily Johnson, Luke Martin, Leah Mayo, Terry Nolan, Tammy DeHart, John Harkins, Scott Weaver, Steve Acker and Rodney Leonard.

Thank you all for all the hard work and thank you for reading

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