The Bryan County News and Coastal Courier reached out to officials in Bryan, Liberty, and Long counties regarding online news reports alleging mismanagement of Local Victim Assistance Program Funds. Local government officials have responded by explaining their process for handling funds and refute any claims of mismanagement.
Those reports on the website allongeorgia.com claim the counties, as well as the entire Atlantic Judicial Circuit, are wrongly handling the funds, which are collected by the courts from those convicted of crimes to help pay for victims programs. Allongeorgia.com focused on Bryan County in its initial report. Bryan County officials have since released pages of documents related to Local Victim Assistance Funds in response to these allegations of mismanagement. The information, county officials say, is public record. These documents can be viewed at the bottom of this page.
Bryan County responds
County officials, including Chairman Carter Infinger, County Manager Ben Taylor, County Clerk Donna Waters, and County Finance Director John Rauback, say no one from the website, which said its reporting is based on information acquired from open records requests, has filed such requests with the county.
Nor, those officials say, has anyone from the website contacted them directly for information related to allegations officials have mismanaged hundreds of thousands of dollars in such funding.
In a response to the initial story in June, the county released the following statement:
“Bryan County currently has six providers that are certified to provide victims assistance to Bryan County residents. When funds are received from the courts – as a result of fines being collected – the amount received is turned over to one of those programs, which are managed by our District Attorney’s Office. From there, the funds are dispersed to provide services to victims of crimes.
“A few months ago, Bryan County received a request by an organization that had recently earned certification to provide services to residents of Bryan County. That request was later withdrawn, only to be resubmitted recently. This is the only organization to request those funds, other than the ones managed by our DA’s office. Seeing as how more requests may come as the county grows, the commission formed a committee that will recommend how the funds are dispersed. This committee has also sent letters to all six certified programs (the recently accredited organization and those overseen by the DA’s office) offering the opportunity to apply for a percentage of the funds collected.
“Regarding any alleged mismanagement of funds, Bryan County forwards all of the Local Victim Assistance Program funds received for the purpose of assisting crime victims. Our government’s finances are audited annually, as required by the state and no discrepancies have ever been identified.”
Documents provided by Bryan County appear to show that for years it forwarded all the funds collected by various courts to the District Attorney’s Victims Witness program to help fund such programs in the Atlantic Judicial Circuit.
Then, in September 2018, Trinity Ingram-Jones, a forensic nurse with a background in working with children who are victims of sexual abuse, applied for the funding after opening a facility in Richmond Hill.
Ingram-Jones, who earlier worked with Helen's Haven in Hinesville, filed a number of open records requests with Bryan County and the state, and in February brought claims of missing funds to the Bryan County News – which could not verify them as accurate.
In the meantime, and apparently in response to Ingram-Jones’ request, the county set up its first LVAP Committee, consisting of seven people with backgrounds in local government or law enforcement in order to ensure the funding went where it was needed, officials said.
Among those appointed were Richmond Hill Police Chief Mitch Shores, who has since been replaced by Richmond Hill Finance Director Bob Whitmarsh; Pembroke Public Safety Director Bill Collins, Sheriff Clyde Smith or an appointee; Judge Christy Balbo; Wendy Sims, director of Bryan County Family Connection; resident Tracy Walden-Stafford; and Rauback as a county staff member.
“One thing we didn’t want to do is pull the rug out of another agency that depended on that funding,” Taylor said.
The committee next meets Aug. 7.
There are six such agencies, including Ingram-Jones, certified by the state’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Council eligible for the funding.
State law requires such funds to be disbursed to those assistance programs providing services within its county, or, if there are no such programs, then sending it to the District Attorney’s office.
County officials said Ingram-Jones was the first to ask for the funding, and Monday said no one from the state has contacted them regarding the issue.
There are six counties in the Atlantic Judicial Circuit: Bryan, Evans, Liberty, Long, McIntosh and Tattnall. Officials in Liberty and Long counties have said they are in compliance with state requirements.
Liberty, Long officials speak
“We have had, and will continue to have, a very successful program to aid victims of crimes in Liberty County,” Liberty County administrator Joey Brown said, after viewing the online reports. “All of our providers are in full compliance with state requirements.” According to Brown, Liberty County receives funds from two sources: the Clerk of Court and municipalities that collect the VW (Victim/Witness) add-on. He said the totals are reported to the CJCC (Criminal Justice Coordinating Council) semi-annually by the county. Agencies that receive funds from the county are also required to report to the CJCC, Brown said.
“There are some funds remaining from the second source which have not been disbursed to the entities yet,” he said. “Once this happens the totals will be the same.”
Liberty County Clerk of Court Linda Thompson agreed with Brown. She further explained that her office collects monies for the victims assistance fund and sends a check each month to the County Governing Authority for all the LVAP monies collected.
“We also send a monthly disbursement report to the GSCCCA (Georgia Clerk’s Cooperative Authority), which they then report the amounts that we reported to the CJCC,” Thompson said. “Each independent municipality has to report their monies collected for the LVAP to the GSCCCA and then GSCCCA reports it to CJCC.”
Sherry Long, the Clerk of Superior Court in Long County, said state code OCGA 15-21-130, which went into effect July 1, 1995, mandates the collection and the disbursement of the Local Victims Assistance Funds.
Long told the Courier that Long County – which has a relatively small population of around 19,000 – doesn’t have a local victims assistance program. Therefore, she sends 100 percent of the funds to the District Attorney’s office.
“The law states there is a 5 percent surcharge on all fines and court costs that the county can keep if there is a certified local victim assistance program,” she said. “Long County does not have such a program. The DA's office is in charge of disbursing the funds. I have no say in how or to whom the funds are disbursed.”
Long said when she completes bi-annual reports, she marks them as “non-applicable” because the DA's office receives the money. She said the DA’s office is responsible for completing the reports since she doesn’t know who receives the funds.
“It is only my job to collect and disburse according to the law,” Long said. She added that the funds collected are included in Long County’s annual audit.
The Bryan County News and Coastal Courier will continue to cover this story as it develops.
Here are all of the public records documents released by Bryan County officials. They are in PDF format, and can be opened when clicked.