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Governor informed of "possible malfeasance" Columbia County tax commissioner

Monday, Dec. 23, 2013 9:34 AM
Last updated Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2013 12:33 AM
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The Columbia County Commission voted Monday morning to send an official letter to Gov. Nathan Deal reporting “possible malfeasance” on the part of Tax Commissioner Kay Allen.



Commission Chairman Ron Cross said he and all the other commissioners were obliged to notify the governor under state law.

“The action taken here today brings no joy to this commission. It neither supports nor condemns the alleged conduct of the tax commissioner,” said Cross in a statement following the vote. “By law each of us is required to report any suspicions of misconduct to the governor.”

The malfeasance cited in the letter refers to Allen’s fees from the cities of Grovetown and Harlem to collect taxes “which she retained as personal compensation that should have been remitted to the county.”

According to records acquired by The Augusta Chronicle, since 2009, Allen collected more than $160,000 in personal compensation from the two cities for those services. Allen has acknowledged those payments were fees she kept for herself. Her total compensation for 2013, including $36,000 from Harlem and Grovetown, was $171,597, according to county documents.

The commission’s letter states that practice is a “clear violation” of state law, which says “the governing authority, not the tax commissioner, may contract with municipalities to accept, receive and retain compensation if the county had more than 50,000 parcels.”

Columbia County passed the 50,000-parcel threshold in 2009, two years after the law went into effect.

The letter also says Allen was made aware of the changes in the law in a 2007 state training for tax commissioners conducted by the Georgia Department of Revenue.

Grovetown and Harlem officials have said they thought the payments were going to the county, not to Allen’s personal bank account.

The Columbia County Sheriff’s Office wrapped up its investigation into the matter last week and forwarded its files to District Attorney Ashley Wright.

According to the commission’s letter to the governor, “no less than two federal law enforcement agencies” are also investigating the tax commissioner’s side deals with the two cities. Cross said it was his understanding that investigators with the FBI and the IRS are involved.

Commissioner’s approved the letter unanimously, except for Commissioner Charles Allen, Kay Allen’s husband, who recused himself from the vote.

Allen was in her Evans office Monday, after being absent from work most of last week.

She directed a reporter’s questions to the Atlanta area attorney she has retained, Douglas Chalmers Jr., of Political Law Group.

“Any questions, you will need to talk with my attorney,” Allen said Monday.

In an e-mail Monday, Chalmers said Allen had also retained attorney Pat McDonough of the law firm of Andersen, Tate & Carr. McDonough heads up the firm’s criminal defense division, according to the firm Web site. Chalmers said they also will be working with Augusta attorney, Jack Long, a longtime friend of the tax commissioner.

Chalmers said Allen will not be making any public comment on the situation.

“She will not make any statements while there is an investigation is going on,” he said. “I will speak for her when she needs to make a statement.”

Chalmers said his client was a dedicated public servant and disputed the idea that Allen had violated any state laws in her agreements to collect city taxes.

“Georgia law has long provided, and it still provides, that county tax commissioners are authorized to accept extra compensation when they do extra work by helping townships collect local taxes,” he said. “We look forward to vigorously defending Kay against any incorrect, politically-motivated allegations to the contrary.”

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Little Lamb
46969
Points
Little Lamb 12/23/13 - 12:05 pm
0
12
Loophole

Sure, the county has over 50,000 parcels, but Grovetown and Harlem have way less than 50,000 parcels combined. Commissioner Allen was keeping money only on the handful of parcels inside the city limits of those two towns. Maybe her contracts are valid. There are different ways to look at things.

IBeDogGone
3015
Points
IBeDogGone 12/23/13 - 12:28 pm
11
1
Little Lamb

And maybe Donkey's Fly!!

Discussionstarter
495
Points
Discussionstarter 12/23/13 - 12:32 pm
12
1
Interesting, but more questions need to be asked!!!

The CC Commissioners did not uncover this. Where are the county's internal auditors; did they not see this 'money trail' since the new law was passed in 2009? Did the auditors not receive additional training? Does the county not have an independent audit that should have 'seen' $160,000 move from Grovetown and Harlem's books and then 'disappear'? Very disappointing. Ron... it is time to step-down; this is one of many 'over-sights'.

galaxygrl
1270
Points
galaxygrl 12/23/13 - 01:00 pm
12
1
Taxes?

She and Charles filed amended tax returns for the past seven years last week. I think I know who one of the federal agencies is who is looking at her records.

truthfinder
123
Points
truthfinder 12/23/13 - 01:07 pm
4
4
Just remember...

Mr. Dwight Johnson knew about this for several years before reporting it. Did he not have the same obligation to report any suspicious activity?

And where did the news from amended tax returns come from? I haven't seen that reported anywhere...

David Parker
7923
Points
David Parker 12/23/13 - 01:56 pm
9
1
@ LL

If the wording had been something other than "County" exceeding 50,000, you'd be correct. Only one way to interpret what occurred here though.

As for the employee being obligated to report discrepancies. IF they are and were negligent in bringing it to her attention, then she may be able to just pay it back. I would not vote for her again however and it's because I hate those who will take on the responsibility when it comes to getting a cheque, but divert the same responsibility when it requires effort. If it happened on your watch, then it's your problem, not Dwight's or anybody else's.

truthfinder
123
Points
truthfinder 12/23/13 - 02:03 pm
7
3
Reporting discrepancies

Dwight took an oath when he was sworn in. If the commissioners are required by law to report any illegal activity, then he certainly was. Why would we believe he would act any differently if he runs for Tax Commissioner?

David Parker
7923
Points
David Parker 12/23/13 - 02:16 pm
11
1
I think the reasoning is in

I think the reasoning is in the fact that whistleblowers who are not protected OR in this case, under heavy scrutiny, do not typically call out their superiors for fear of retaliation. I wouldn't sacrifice my job to go head to head with the affluent and ruling class of CC.

Lee Benedict
1625
Points
Lee Benedict 12/23/13 - 04:26 pm
8
3
Really Ron?

“By law each of us is required to report any suspicions of misconduct to the governor.” Fair enough.

1) last count, Columbia County had 32 bank accounts with a certain bank. One of the sitting commissioners is an executive for the bank. Why so many accounts? This seems suspicious. Was it reported?

2) a sitting commissioner was sued for $81,000+ in un-paid rent ($4,500.00/month) after he took $28,500 in cash from the landlord because the commissioner's business' location was not ready on time. The commissioner was sued and the suit was dismissed with prejudice, meaning, the matter can be revisited. I suspect that if the commissioner does not vote "a certain way", the matter will be revisited. This is suspicious. Was it reported?

Lee Benedict
1625
Points
Lee Benedict 12/23/13 - 04:30 pm
12
3
Discussionstarter, you nailed it.

"Very disappointing. Ron... it is time to step-down; this is one of many 'over-sights'." Ron has his hands in everything, but, he seems to have missed this little venture.

Lee Benedict
1625
Points
Lee Benedict 12/23/13 - 04:35 pm
8
3
David and truthfinder,

well said. Plus, Columbia County appears to be very apathetic as many refuse to vote against an incumbent (let alone run against an incumbent) REGARDLESS of what s/he did or may have done.

Lee Benedict
1625
Points
Lee Benedict 12/23/13 - 04:53 pm
9
3
What will Deal do?

He's unpopular. He has two declared candidates against him in the Republican primary, which, is a few short months away. Any GOP candidate for statewide office knows how vital Columbia County is in a primary and in a general election. Deal will not at all be objective and approach this with an open mind.

just an opinion
2718
Points
just an opinion 12/23/13 - 09:49 pm
9
1
Commissioners: "don't condemn conduct"

Even though your letter states "there is a clear violation of the law". No backbone? Or Who are you afraid of? Kay? Charles? or the future congressman?

Discussionstarter
495
Points
Discussionstarter 12/23/13 - 07:14 pm
11
1
Ron just seen commenting on the 6 o'clock news WJBF

He basically said that it is is hard to audit when the records are not there. Ron... the law changed in 2009. Prior to the law changing in 2009....The auditors had a paper trail. When the law changed..... Ms. Allen may not have shown the Grovetown and Harlem 'donations' on her books but those checks from Grovetown and Harlem are still a paper trail that any good auditor would have asked....'Where did these checks go'? Ron, I can not believe you said that. [I am hoping I misunderstood what he said on the news.] Proper auditing is Business 101.

galaxygrl
1270
Points
galaxygrl 12/23/13 - 07:20 pm
6
1
Amended Returns

I heard it on top of the hour radio news last week. I can't find it in print but it was about the time that she took advice from Jack Long that came out in the news.

Riverman1
86973
Points
Riverman1 12/23/13 - 08:44 pm
10
3
Stick To The Facts

Let's keep it under control here, folks. How in the world does anyone know about the Allen's tax returns? It wasn't on the news. That's confidential information. As far as Ron Cross being somehow responsible, heck, the Grovetown and Harlem officials didn't even know their payment wasn't going to the county as the law required. How can you expect anyone in Columbia County to know when she was using hand written bills and sending return envelopes that only she opened?

Let's stick with the facts. There are more than enough to put her in prison.

Lee Benedict
1625
Points
Lee Benedict 12/23/13 - 10:22 pm
2
2
galaxy,

The Metro Spirit reported that Kay Allen resigned (another untruth from a worthless rag).

just an opinion
2718
Points
just an opinion 12/23/13 - 10:48 pm
5
1
$264,000 tax value. The Allen Home AND 19 acres

Charles- step down! You know this is unethical and an abuse of power.

Discussionstarter
495
Points
Discussionstarter 12/23/13 - 11:15 pm
4
1
I do not agree with you Riverman

The money from Grovetown and Harelm wasn't cash stuffed in envelopes. Checks are to be tracked by auditors; that is what auditors are for. Internal CC auditors should have caught this; if not.... CC should have required external annual audits as well. Yes.... the scope of accountability does not end with Ms. Allen; the CC Commission and Ron are the final step. I would understand if this were a one-time payment but it was not; there is alot of money involved over a 4-year spread. So... why now... should a complete audit be requested by CC? This should be standard practice especially for a department that handles so much money. I just hope that this investigation is thorough and that the residents of CC demand answers... and keep demanding them. I am a CC resident and I am not going to settle for generic excuses. Holding officials accountable and transparency in government... needs to be the focus going forward. This is not the first time something does not smell right!

galaxygrl
1270
Points
galaxygrl 12/24/13 - 01:56 am
0
1
Interesting

Riverman,
Scott Hudson reported it and I never heard any more about it, but thanks for the affirmation.

ColCo
838
Points
ColCo 12/24/13 - 11:01 am
0
1
Discussionstarter

If the checks were made payable to "Kay Allen" and were never on the books in the tax commissioners office, how would the county ever pick them up in an audit. They don't audit personal deposits or tax returns. There was no public document on file with the commissioners acknowledging the contract, so how can you audit something that looks like it was intentionally being hidden. The county uses several accounting firms to conduct audits, why aren't you questioning their abilities? Our county commissioners are not omnipotent, all-knowing, all-seeing beings, and unfortunately our county, much like business owners all over this area have suffered from an employee taking funds that were not theirs to keep.

Bizkit
33002
Points
Bizkit 12/24/13 - 09:15 am
1
1
I don't know about the truth

I don't know about the truth of these accusations but what bothers me is the lack of due diligence with our money. We have to dot every "i" and cross every "t" but govt seems to take carte blanche. Maybe because it isn't their money-well maybe she fixed that is a possibility.

Riverman1
86973
Points
Riverman1 12/24/13 - 10:09 am
3
1
The Bank Is Key

I'd like to hear more about how Scott Hudson knew about their tax returns. Now it could very well be he knows someone in their accountant's office who let him know. I don't know. He does come up with some good stuff sometimes.

But about the money as I've been saying and as ColCo again lays out well, these payments were being hidden. Where I would zero in is on the bank that cashed the check for Allen. If the check said, "Kay Allen: Tax Commission," as one town official said, the bank should not have given her that money personally. Again, what I believe happened is the bank thought she was above reproach with the hundreds of millions the Columbia County Tax Commission deposits in probably that same bank.

Look, I'm no big Ron Cross fan as Lee and others will tell you, but this was simply a well hidden scheme that went on for years. Do I think we get complacent checking things like this is in fat and happy Columbia County...obviously, yes. We need to do a better job in the future, but this is just one of those things.

Riverman1
86973
Points
Riverman1 12/24/13 - 10:02 am
1
1
From Another Story

"A Waynesboro man was sentenced last week to serve two years in prison for his role in preparing fraudulent tax returns."

nocnoc
45017
Points
nocnoc 12/24/13 - 10:21 am
1
1
I still say it is a 50/50

UNTIL
more facts are released to persuade me otherwise.
This could go either way.

Karen Slater-McDaniel
3100
Points
Karen Slater-McDaniel 12/24/13 - 10:55 am
1
1
Incorrect ColCo

If people within Grovetown & Harlem made tax payments those payments would have to be allocated to the individual homeowners account. Those payments would have to somehow be tracked to deposits made & would have to equal the amount received in. Otherwise there would have to be a general journal entry(ies) showing why there is a discrepancy. This should be trackable/traceable by ANY audit.

Karen Slater-McDaniel
3100
Points
Karen Slater-McDaniel 12/24/13 - 11:07 am
1
0
Rules to follow

One of the easiest ways to get "taken" in business is to have one person on the signature account of your bank accounts & that one person having access to your money & your books.

If you own a business you should always require two signatures on any check going out & never have the person responsible for your books be the same person who has legal access to your money.

When people gain access to your money, they begin to feel powerful & they become another person & lose their morals. This is true in private enterprise & government.

ColCo
838
Points
ColCo 12/24/13 - 11:10 am
2
0
Karen

I would agree, however the municipalities paid the tax commissioner her contracted fee, she didn't deduct her 2% from funds collected. Evidently Grovetown and Harlem both thought their payments were being deposited into the county's general fund. I agree that it would have been impossible to hide if she had kept a 2% commission from each transaction.

466
Points
Lakeside95 12/24/13 - 11:12 am
0
0
Now we know...

Why Scott Dean was persecuted. Its amazing what information can be gathered from someone who knows what was said & done in those Executive Sessions.

I do know that the former District 4 Commissioner was very concerned with the way things were being handled in Executive Sessions. He expressed those concerns to the County Attorney and to others.

Does Rick Allen actually think anyone will vote to let him play with our FEDERAL money after this? With RWAllen and Allen & Batchelor two of the highest county contract bidders and winners...there should (and probably will be) an investigation into contract procedures.

Discussionstarter
495
Points
Discussionstarter 12/24/13 - 11:31 am
0
0
ColCo

If Grovetown and Harlem write a check to CC or Kay.... auditors in Grovetown and Harlem can track as to what account the check was deposited in. If the auditors in Harlem and Grovetwon can't... a simple call to the bank would provide that information. I agree with Karen's post. This is Business 101. External auditors would also pick up money to and from accounts. Bottom-line.... as I said earlier.... I hope the residents of CC do not let this investigation stop with Ms. Allen; there are more people who need to be held accountable at the end of the day. There are failures in the process and more checks & balances need to be in place.

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