Originally created 08/14/97

Lawsuit names head of sheriff's group



ATLANTA - The head of the Georgia Sheriffs' Association and two former staffers are accused of racketeering in a federal lawsuit that charges they manipulated the organization's pension plan for personal gain.

The lawsuit, filed recently in U.S. District Court in Atlanta, says top officials at the association got a commission for securities bought by their pension plan, and received low-interest loans not available to rank-and-file staffers.

Irene Munn, former lobbyist for the association and now a Douglas County prosecutor, states in her lawsuit that the officials "failed to properly oversee" investments made by the plan while serving as its trustees.

The lawsuit names as defendants the Georgia Sheriffs' Association and the Sheriffs' Association Youth Homes, which are both covered by the pension plan; the sheriffs' association's director, James A. "Bud" Cody; and former employees Robert W. Carter and Faye Carter-Powell, who were married when they worked at the association.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Labor Department confirmed Wednesday that federal officials are investigating the association, which is headquartered in Stockbridge, Ga. The Labor Department oversees employers' compliance with federal laws governing retirement plans.

The association provides training, technical assistance, consulting and political representation at the state Capitol for Georgia's 159 county sheriffs. It is financed by a combination of state grants and local sheriffs' dues.

The Boys Homes are a charity started 30 years ago to help abused and neglected children. Sheriffs' Boys Homes house over 100 children in four facilities around the state.

In the lawsuit, Ms. Munn said she was forced to leave her job in 1995 because she was harassed for seeking information about the employees' retirement plan.

"She began to ask questions ... and believes she would have been treated differently had she not asked questions," said Ms. Munn's attorney, Timothy Boyd.

James Hughes, listed in court filings as the association's lawyer in the case, said he had not seen the lawsuit and couldn't comment. Mr. Cody was away from the office and unavailable for comment.

In a letter last year to another trustee, Ms. Munn charged that Mr. Carter received $4,000 in commissions for the purchase of securities by the plan, and that three times the customary commission was paid for investment transactions in some cases.

In at least one case, her attorney asserts, an investment made by the plan is now worthless.

Top association officials took out loans from the retirement accounts at belowmarket interest rates that were not "equally available to nonhighly compensated employees," the lawsuit said.

"There seems to be some fire under the smoke," Mr. Boyd said.

Ms. Munn estimates she has lost $103,500 in wages and $325,000 in potential plan assets and profits. The plan currently has about $1.4 million in assets, Mr. Boyd said.