RN-T: Judge allows state to drop original indictments in school thefts case; allows up to six months to bring new indictments.

RN-T: Judge allows state to drop original indictments in school thefts case; allows up to six months to bring new indictments.


The Rome News-Tribune reports that during motion hearings Monday, Superior Court Judge Jack Niedrach allowed the district attorney’s office to… and allowed the state no more than six months to bring new indictments.

The decision stems from flaws in the original indictments and timing issues raised by attorneys for some of the 13 suspects in the Floyd County Schools theft case. Some of those issues were brought up in our story Friday with the attorney for one of the lead suspects, former schools operations director Sam Sprewell.  See below.

 

PREVIOUSLY

From Hometown Headlines on Friday: Motion hearings for 13 suspects in the Floyd County Schools theft case are scheduled for 9 a.m. Monday before Superior Court Judge Jack E. Niedrach.

In one suspect’s case at least, attorneys will be arguing to have some counts dismissed, citing “insufficient” issues with indictments in the case. Rome Attorney J.J. Seifert is co-counsel for Sam Sprewell, the former director of operations for Floyd County Schools. He retired in April 2015 while four other school system employees resigned immediately as allegations of the theft ring went public.

Sprewell faces seven counts stemming from the massive investigation into the racketeering case and was indicted in October. He surrendered at the Floyd County Jail, facing two charges of bribery; four counts of violation of the state’s racketeer influenced and corrupt organizations act; and one charge of theft by taking. He joined the school system in July 2000 and was earning $103,794 a year when he suddenly retired on April 9, 2015. He supervised the nutrition, maintenance, custodial and transportation departments.

Seifert and co-counsel Robert C. Rutledge contest that there were errors with the filings in the indictments and have filed motions to dismiss. The first indictment left off the term of court so it was insufficient on its face and the state refiled another indictment with the term of court noted but both indictments failed to allege that venue was proper in Floyd County, Seifert says.

One option for the state would be to file to “nolle prosse” or do away with those indictments and seek a new indictment. District Attorney Leigh Patterson’s office does not comment on ongoing cases.

So what’s next is to see what does go before the judge and Niedrach’s response. The court sessions are open to the public. Monday’s court docket

BACKGROUND

From Oct. 1, 2018:

The indictment in the Floyd County Schools/RICO case is 111 pages long. It details allegations of abusive spending and money laundering, with 1,659  instances of alleged wrongdoing. In all, 99 counts are alleged with purported ringleader Derry Richardson facing the most: 14 counts.

The charges include: Acquiring money through racketeering; participating in an enterprise through a pattern of racketeering; conspiracy to acquire money through a pattern of racketeering; conspiracy to participate in an enterprise through a pattern of racketeering; theft by taking; money laundering; bribery; theft by receiving; and “structuring.”

Two more arrests were made in the case, including former senior school system administrator Sam Sprewell who was among the five employees to resign or retire as the case broke in 2015. The final pages of the indictment charge him with bribery (Alabama logo grill, plane tickets, golf outing) and theft by taking (more than $450,000). Sprewell was operations director for the county schools at the time.

Indicted on charges of violation of Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act as of Oct. 1 were:

Robert Mitchell Anderson: Faced five counts (since deceased).

Harry Anthony Bailey: Six counts

Russell David Burkhalter: Six counts.

David Gary English: Nine counts.

Rodney Don Holder: Seven counts.

Derry Scott Richardson (Resigned in April 2015; was school system’s director of maintenance). 16 counts.

Dwayne Lee Richardson: Six counts.

Jimmy B. Richardson: Six counts.

Lisa Michelle Richardson (wife of Derry Richardson). Seven counts.

Charles R. Sherman: Five counts.

Samuel M. Tucker: Six counts.

Robert Chad Watson (Resigned in April 2015 as school system’s operations coordinator). Six counts.

Samuel Sprewell (Retired in April 2015; was school system’s director of operations). Seven counts.

James David Fielder. Six counts.

THE INDICTMENTS:

Pages 1-20: Summary — In stunning detail, the opening pages outline how the operation came together, who allegedly did what, who profited from school funds (including SPLOST dollars) and others also investigated during the process. The details accompanying each name are jaw-dropping.

Pages 21-40: Summary — The detailed tracking of expenditures repeated mentions Amazon, Apple Online, New Egg, taxidermy shops, independents and other retail outlets.

Pages 41-60: Summary — More tracking, including records leading to Toshiba, elegant collectibles and concludes with item no. 806, Canadian Antler Design. Also: It continues with item 807 forward, these detailing with individual school projects. Also: It showcases money transfers, sometimes between some of the 14 indicted on Monday. The standard amounts were $6,000 but others top $28,000.

Pages 61-80: Summary — Explicit detail alleging Derry Richardson was using his Cabela’s credit card to charge lodging, food and  other items and then paying for it from his various accounts. Also Christmas dinner board gift cards, Bose speakers, livestock, golf equipment, cookie dough for a child’s fundraiser, Brunswick stew and $500 dinners.

Pages 81-100: Summary — Details spending allegedly by Lisa Richardson, including a $100 trip to Chuck E. Cheese, purchase of the $4,300 Zebra skin chair, a $2.500 dining table, and individual spending on projects.

Pages 101-111: Summary — Outlines alleged spending patterns of Samuel Tuck, many for five figures, as well as Robert Chad Watson.


QUICK CHRONOLOGY 

The following is a chronology of events surrounding the Floyd County Schools’ spending scandal and changes within the school system: The information comes from court records, school system and Floyd County Police statements, Hometown Headlines and related sources).

2004: Derry Richardson and one other key player in the case meet and form a partnership.

2005: That’s the year investigators believe the thefts began to occur, continuing through April 2015.

2007: Court records show that investigators believe that  “beginning no later than 2007, Derry Scott Richardson and others engaged in and committed at least two or more acts of racketeering activity, to wit, violation of state law relating to theft against the Floyd County Board of Education.”

Fall 2014: Allegations of some wrongdoing within the school system’s maintenance department surface and are reported to authorities. Some investigation begins but nothing apparently comes of it.

Spring 2015: New concerns arise, called “questionable spending practices.” The school system says the irregularities were found thanks to new accounting software.

April 9, 2015: Five school employees quickly leave the county school system,  including a senior administrator who suddenly retired and four others.   Gone are Sam Sprewell, the school system’s chief of operations (retired); Derry Richardson, director of maintenance, Terri Snelling, Director of School Improvement, Robert “Chad” Watson, operations coordinator, and William “Greg” McCary, lead maintenance specialist — all resigned. Background

April 10, 2015: Derry Richardson’s home at 241 Riverbluff Drive in Summerville is raided thanks to search warrants issued in the case.

April 14, 2015: 12:59 p.m.: Richardson withdraws $30,000  at the Summerville location of United Community Bank by presenting the bank a debit transaction “form to facilitate the withdrawal of funds.” He later returns the money as court action begins.

April 17, 2015: In a media release, the school system outlines a shift in personnel that includes the appointment of a “Director of Internal Audits and Compliance… this new position … will review purchasing and finance in all departments in the system.  Archive

May 1, 2015: Additional changes within the school system:  In another news release: “Floyd County Schools is proposing revisions to purchasing procedures with the submission of a revised board policy and administrative rule to guide the process.”

May 6, 2015: The court-appointed receiver, attorney Brian Bojo of Rome, lists Derry Richardson’s assets at close to $1 million.  It was the first of a string of assessments Bojo has assembled since April of last year.

May 21, 2015: Maj. Mark Wallace (since promoted to chief) of the Floyd County Police Department says “multiple” suspects likely will face charges in the spending scandal. “As a result of the Floyd County Board of Education investigation, numerous persons have been identified as conspirators within the criminal enterprise. Arrests are forthcoming and we fully expect multiple persons to face criminal charges.”

Nov. 2, 2015: During a civil hearing, Richardson agrees to forfeit his home and other items.

Feb. 18, 2016: During a meeting with law enforcement personnel, then-Floyd County Police Chief Bill Shiftlett outlines the schools maintenance department investigation. He confirms the FBI is involved in the case, that the value is now exceeding $3 million, that property has been seized including 60 firearms and that 12 to 14 arrests are pending.

Feb. 19, 2016: A series of court records outlines the $3 million-plus theft and kickback scheme.

June 9, 2016: Authorities make the first of 10 arrests in the case.

May 2017William “Greg” McCary, an operations specialist who resigned from the school board in April 2015, dies in an accidental fall at Little River Canyon.

Nov. 1, 2017:  The Johnson Controls settlement: “The Floyd County School District and Johnson Controls announce that they have reached an agreement and settlement resolving all disputes between them. The agreed-upon resolution involves a lump-sum payment of $2.3 million by Johnson Controls to Floyd County Schools, along with the provision of services and equipment for a two year period, as well as a preferred service agreement on work the School District may request Johnson Controls to perform in the future.

Nov. 19, 2017: All the items confiscated in the RICO investigation go up for auction, including Derry Richardson’s home outside of Summerville. The auction raises more than $1 million.

Summer 2018: Rumblings begin about concerns in the criminal investigation because of the statute of limitations in the case. Some feared the deadline was November of this year; it actually was October. The massive 110-page indictment showcases what took so long.

Oct. 1, 2018: 14 suspects are indicted, including two people who had yet to be charged.

 

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