Derry Richardson and most of the suspects in the Floyd County Schools’ theft/RICO case entered guilty pleas in superior court Monday morning. The surprising development means almost all suspects in the case have accepted plea deals — some with prison time, others with house arrest and two seeing charges dismissed. All gave up their rights to appeal. It closes one of the nastier stories in recent memory in Floyd County where up to $6 million was involved in a bizarre ring concocted by the a Chattooga County man, authorities say.
The Rome News-Tribune is reporting as follows:
Derry Richardson sentenced to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to RICO charges: Multiple defendants in the Floyd County Schools RICO investigation all pleaded guilty to varying participation in a racketeering conspiracy to defraud the county school system out more than $6 million. (Click here for more if you’re a subscriber; there is a paywall if not).
A few others received prison time while others were sentenced to house arrest. Richardson’s wife, Lisa, will not serve time in jail; the couple have several children. Charges against Sam Sprewell, who was chief of operations at the school system when the case broke and retired immediately in April 2015, were dismissed, says his attorney, J.J. Walker Seifert. He has maintained his innocence since the case began, she said Monday.
New: Media statement from District Attorney Leigh Patterson:
We published the chronology below several years ago and has been updated. Since then, the case has taken several turns in the court system and an auction was held to sell items seized during the suspects’ arrests, with proceeds benefiting Floyd County Schools. That chronology:
The information comes from court records, school system and Floyd County Police statements, Hometown Headlines and WRGA reports.
- 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.
- 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 assistant 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, 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.
- April 13, 2016: WRGA reports Shiflett, during the public safety committee, told colleagues “investigators were hoping to make arrests in the probe into theft from the Floyd County Board of Education last week but they decided to wait after they received new information. It led us to more interviews and possible more involvement and it’s best we follow those leads,’ Shiflett said, according to WRGA. Also in play: The FBI’s interest in the investigation is growing, he says. WRGA’s expanded story.
- June 9, 2016: Authorities make the first of 10 arrests in the case.
- Nov. 19, 2017: The gates at the Coosa Valley Fairgrounds opened at 8 a.m. Saturday to prepare for the “Super Bowl of Local Auctions.” It was a big one, perhaps the biggest in more than 20 years as more than 600 items linked to the theft of more than $4 million from Floyd County Schools brought in easily $1 million.The top item was the Derry Richardson home on the Chattooga River near Summerville. It alone went for $390,000. Vehicles, electronics, even Zebra chairs were sold as a packed house at the Coosa Valley Fairgrounds looked for a bargain. Dempsey Auction ran the sale following Richardson’s settlement of a civil case over the thefts investigation.
- February 2020: The Floyd County Grand Jury has re-indicted 13 Floyd County Schools RICO defendants after previous indictments were dropped last year. According to the 307-count indictment filed Friday, Derry Scott Richardson is accused of using his position as the school system’s maintenance director to steal millions of dollars from the public schools — and he included family, friends and coworkers in the ongoing scheme. Conspirators are accused of creating inflated, and in some cases completely fraudulent, invoices for both construction and maintenance projects. Other family members charged along with Richardson are his wife, Lisa Richardson; his father, Jimmy Richardson; and his brother Dwayne Richardson. Also charged are Russell David Burkhalter, Samuel Max Tucker, Harry Anthony Bailey, Robert Chad Watson, Charles Raiden Sherman, David Gary English, Rodney Don Holder, Sam Sprewell and James David Fielder.
- July 27, 2020: Derry Richardson, others enter guilty pleas before Superior Court Judge Jack Neidrach.