GBI probes Ga. county's tax assessments

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HARTWELL, Ga. -- The Hart County Sheriff’s Office has asked the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to look into allegations that someone has tampered with the property values stored in the Hart County tax assessor’s computer system.

Hart County Sheriff Mike Cleveland asked the GBI earlier this month to investigate discrepancies in the county’s tax records, according to Mike Fullington, special agent in charge of the GBI’s Athens office.

“We’re still in the early stages of the investigation,” Fullington said. “We’re still trying to see if anything criminal happened.”

Apparently, tax valuations assigned to some number of properties were reduced on the county’s record system without authorization.

Fullington did not know who first discovered the discrepancies, and neither Sheriff Cleveland nor Hart County Chief Tax Appraiser J. Wayne Patrick were available for comment as of presstime Wednesday.

Fullington doesn’t yet know whether the records in question were accessed from inside or outside the tax assessor’s office.

“I don’t know if I would call it hacking,” Fullington said. “When I think of hacking, I think of someone sneaking in through he back door, through a phone line, and I don’t know if that’s the case here. ... We have just been requested to look into some tax values that may have been changed without authorization.”

In February 2010, the GBI arrested a clerk in the Banks County Tax Commissioners Office who allegedly changed ad valorem tax records so that her friends’ vehicle tag taxes were drastically lower than what was actually owed — sometimes by hundreds of dollars.

She was charged with one count of violating her oath of office and seven counts of felony computer fraud.

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