Originally created 08/16/97

Ex-employee files suit against officials



ATLANTA - Allegations of federal pension law violations are nothing more than sour grapes from a disgruntled ex-employee, the head of the Georgia Sheriffs' Association said Friday, adding that he fears the dispute may dampen contributions to the group's charitable boys' homes.

"I want (contributors) to know not one single dime has been misappropriated or misspent in any way," said James A. "Bud" Cody, the association's executive director. "That's all this is, at this point, is an accusation."

Mr. Cody 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 July 24, 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 Sheriffs' Association provides training, technical assistance, consulting and political representation at the state Capitol for Georgia's 159 county sheriffs. It is funded by a combination of state grants and local sheriffs' dues.

The Boys Homes are a not-for-profit charity started 30 years ago to help abused and neglected children. Sheriffs' Boys Homes house over 100 children in four facilities around the state.

Mr. Cody said the pension plan has had a return of more than 10 percent a year during the past decade, and 24 percent last year. He denied any of the plan's investments are worthless, as Ms. Munn's lawyers charge.

Robert W. Carter, a former employee and plan trustee who received commissions for securities sold to the plan, returned the money after an internal probe, Mr. Cody said. Mr. Carter has since left the sheriffs' association and now oversees the retirement plan for the Peace Officers' Annuity and Benefit Fund.

Loans from the retirement fund - contrary to what the suit maintains - were widely available and not limited to top executives, Mr. Cody said.

"I haven't embezzled one dime. I haven't taken one dime," he said.

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