According to an affidavit used to obtain search warrants at the time of Tuten’s Dec. 19 arrests, federal agents found evidence that he had a bank account to store checks paid to the coroner’s office by the Tissue and Donor Services for Georgia Regents Health System.
The Tissue and Donor Services paid a rental fee for the use of a room at the coroner’s office, said spokeswoman Jennifer Hilliard Scott. It is estimated that it was used about 30 times in the past year and paid $500 for each case, she said.
According to the Richmond County budget, the only source of revenue from the coroner’s office is $2,000 for reports and miscellaneous charges. By the Tissue and Donor Services estimate, the program paid about $15,000 this past year.
According to the search warrants’ affidavit, federal agents seized a checkbook that Tuten may have used for the Tissue and Donor Services fees, and un-cashed checks from the program.
The agents also seized Tuten’s personal bank and tax records.
A person with knowledge of the local coroner’s office went to the FBI in July to report suspicions that property and money was missing. According to FBI agent Charles McKee’s affidavit, a vehicle taken for safe-keeping after Walter E. Thurston, 84, died on April 29, 2011, disappeared from the parking area at the coroner’s office. Although the vehicle was listed on the coroner’s inventory of Thurston’s property, it was later deleted, according to the affidavit.
Federal agents saw Thurston’s 2004 Nissan Altima at Tuten’s home on at least three occasions, found service records for work Tuten paid for on the vehicle at a Nissan dealership and discovered the tag on the car belonged to a trailer Tuten owned.
Agents also tracked down a court order Tuten submitted to Superior Court Chief Judge J. Carlisle Overstreet that gave Tuten the authority to retain, sell or discard the vehicle. The request was presented in July 2012, more than a year after Thurston died.
Tuten, 70, has been released on bond. He was a deputy coroner for 26 years before being elected coroner in 2004.