A former Burke County Magistrate Court deputy clerk has been charged with racketeering, accused of stealing more than $21,000 from the county and then lying to cover it up.
According to her indictment, handed down Aug. 9, Nichole K. Hammock, 34, is accused of stealing from the court 237 times between July 2006 and January of this year, pocketing the money when people paid fines, fees and court costs.
After two checks from the magistrate's office bounced in January, the county had the firm Baird & Co. audit the books. Mrs. Hammock was present when an auditor counted all the cash on hand, then asked why there was less than the receipt totals written since the last bank deposit. She couldn't explain it, the indictment says.
On Jan. 16, according to the indictment, she tried to defuse the situation by giving an accountant working on the audit $26,000. She told a Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent that it was money she had taken home for safekeeping.
"In fact, the defendant had acquired the money from her mother-in-law," who wrote Mrs. Hammock a check for $35,000 the same day she handed over the cash, the indictment states.
Mrs. Hammock was also indicted on one count of theft by taking by a government employee.
She was booked in the Burke County jail Aug. 15 and released on a $28,900 bond. She did not return a phone message seeking comment.
If convicted, she faces a maximum of 35 years in prison and $63,000 in fines.
County Administrator Merv Waldrop said Baird & Co. never could pinpoint exactly how much money went missing. The auditors recommended ways to prevent another incident.
"We're seeing that revenues turned over to the commission have improved, and bookkeeping has greatly improved," Mr. Waldrop said.
Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or firstname.lastname@example.org.