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Georgia Grand Jury Critical of Ticket-Fixing Scam

A Grand Jury in Georgia’s DeKalb County found that the County Recorder’s Court suffered from “a leadership competency issue.” The Grand Jury’s review of the court followed a scandal that cost the county millions of dollars plus the court’s credibility and reputation.

A fraud operation by low-level court employees and other individuals involved a ticket-fixing scheme. As part of the scam, court workers lied to judges, falsely telling them that police officers who issued the tickets had authorized downgrading them from fines to warnings. The operation ran from July 2005 to January 2008, and included fixing traffic tickets as well as codes violations.

Two of the eleven people indicted in the scheme pled guilty in September 2009. The court’s former tribunal technician, Charlene N. Johnson, received one year in jail for two counts of violating the Georgia Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. She admitted to charging fees to dismiss tickets, and was ordered to pay $20,000 in restitution. Other court employees who were indicted included Stephan Roberts and Adrian Andrews; former court employee Vanessa Adel and former DeKalb probation office employee Tanzey Swankey were charged in individual ticket fixing cases.

“Clearly, no ‘check and balance’ system was in place at the time of the alleged criminal actions, and, frankly, the Grand Jury finds it deleterious for the head of the Recorder’s Court to fail to take any initiative, action, or corrective steps once her former employees were implicated,” the Grand Jury report concluded.

Chief Judge R. Joy Walker disagreed, saying she acted swiftly to make changes. Her new policy requires officers to either show up in court or submit a request in writing to downgrade a ticket. The Grand Jury also recommended several improvements that Walker agreed to implement.

A December 2008 report estimated that DeKalb County loses up to $7 million annually due to uncollected fines. A major problem is the court’s 85,000 outstanding warrants that only two sworn officers are charged with enforcing. Whether the court will receive funds to hire more officers and improve the computer system used to track tickets seems doubtful, given the county’s budget woes due to the poor economy.

Sources: Atlanta Journal-Constitution, www.cbsatlanta.com, www.crossroadsnews.com

 

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