Originally created 07/24/99

Man pleads guilty to theft charges



A man whose confession enabled investigators to bust a theft ring that included a former Aiken County sheriff pleaded guilty Friday in Richmond County Superior Court.

Robert Daniel Brockman, 28, is already serving a 10-year prison sentence he received in Aiken County for theft.

On Friday in Richmond County he pleaded guilty to stealing a four-wheeler from an Augusta woman's home, and to stealing a boat from a Richmond County Superior Court judge.

The million-dollar theft ring's demise began with Mr. Brockman's Jan. 19, 1998, arrest and confession in Aiken, his lawyer James Walker said Friday.

Authorities in six South Carolina counties, Richmond and Columbia counties in Georgia and investigators in Indiana were able to recover $1.4 million in property because of Mr. Brockman's assistance, Mr. Walker said.

Nine other people were arrested and convicted, including Ralph Gunnells, who served as Aiken County sheriff from 1980 to 1984.

Mr. Brockman had been doing well in the construction business until hitting a downward financial slump in 1997 and fell in with the theft ring, Mr. Walker said.

"Unfortunately I used my talents in the wrong area," Mr. Brockman told the judge.

Judge J. Carlisle Overstreet sentenced Mr. Brockman to serve five years in prison followed by two years on probation. The judge gave him credit for his jail time since January 1998, and also allowed the five-year prison sentence to run concurrently to the South Carolina prison sentence.

The judge also ordered him to repay Wanda Evans and Judge Albert Pickett for the loss of their property.

Judge Overstreet is also scheduled to sentence Mr. Brockman Thursday in Columbia County Superior Court, where more theft charges are pending.

Sandy Hodson covers courts for The Augusta Chronicle. She can be reached at (706) 823-3226 or shodson@augustachronicle.com.