Richmond County Coroner Grover Tuten pleaded not guilty Thursday to the indictment that accuses him of multiple counts of theft and violating his oath of office.
Tuten, 70, was back in Richmond County Superior Court in a jail-issued orange jumpsuit — handcuffed and shackled — to again ask for his release on bond. Tuten had been free on bond for a single theft charge lodged against him Dec. 20. Thursday’s bond hearing was needed because an indictment returned this week by the grand jury added charges against Tuten.
Judge Sheryl B. Jolly, who is assigned to preside over the case, set a $30,000 bond for Tuten.
District Attorney Ashley Wright told the judge that Tuten is accused of basically keeping property of deceased people whose heirs were not immediately known, and charging fees that are not authorized by law.
Wright estimated each of the eight thefts and the five offenses that are the underlying basis of the five charges of violation oath of office was about $1,000 to $2,000. The theft charges are felony offenses because Tuten is accused of committing the crimes as a government employee.
According to the indictment returned Tuesday, the crimes allegedly took place from 2005 through May. Wright said the illegal proceeds that should have gone to the county went into a bank account Tuten established. It has been seized.
Wright did not oppose bond. Defense attorney Hank Crane asked Jolly to consider leaving the bond at $3,000. That amount was set a day after his arrest.
Crane cited Tuten’s strong family support and complete compliance with the conditions of bond set last month — no contact with the coroner’s office or access to any county IT account — as reasons to allow Tuten to remain free on the lower bond amount.
Wright told the judge Thursday that she would notify the governor’s office of Tuten’s indictment.
Since Tuten has been indicted on criminal charges, the process to determine what happens to the elective office can begin, said Sasha Dlugolenski, Gov. Nathan Deal’s spokeswoman.
After receiving the letter, the governor has to wait 14 days before appointing a review commission with two coroners and the attorney general. The commission has 14 days to decide if it will recommend the elected official should be suspended. The decision is up to the governor.
If removed from office, Richmond County Probate Court Judge Harry James may appoint a person to compete Tuten’s term in office.
Tuten’s current salary is $65,000. Tuten was a deputy coroner for 26 years before being elected in 2004.