Originally created 06/20/03

Prosecutor gets fire chief file



Nearly one year after a special grand jury report criticized the city's former fire chief and hinted of possible criminal acts, the investigative file is in the hands of a new prosecutor.

The Georgia Attorney General's Office, which received the Georgia Bureau of Investigation report in May, asked a veteran prosecutor in Savannah to review the case, said Russ Willard, a spokesman for the attorney general.

Eastern Judicial Circuit District Attorney Spencer Lawton has been appointed district attorney pro tem for the bureau's case investigation. He must determine whether the case has merit and, if so, what should happen next, Mr. Willard said.

Mr. Lawton said this week that it would be inappropriate to comment, other than to say he has received the GBI case file and it is under review. He will report back to the attorney general's office afterward, he said. He is under no time limit.

What, if anything, might come of the investigation has been the subject of intense debate and speculation since September 2000, when GBI agents, armed with search warrants that still remain under seal, swooped in and confiscated boxes of financial documents.

The records, first reviewed by accountants for the Richmond County special grand jury, concerned the operational finances and expenses of the Augusta-Richmond County Fire Department while Ronnie Few led the department.

The special grand jury's report, released last July, included an audit report of the fire department. Among the questionable items noted were alleged double reimbursements; expenses allegedly paid for staffers while they were on vacation; travel expenses allegedly paid for trips to two cities on the same day; and a bank account in the department's name allegedly opened without the city government's knowledge.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or shodson@augustachronicle.com.