Screven County Sheriff Mike Kile's claim that he pays inmates $10 per hour out of a county discretionary fund to work for churches turns out to be bogus.
On Tuesday afternoon, the sheriff admitted that he lied during an interview Monday with a Savannah television station, according to County Manager Rick Jordan.
"He said he was nervous. He was in front of the TV camera," Mr. Jordan said.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has been asked to look into allegations, printed Sunday in The Augusta Chronicle, that the sheriff used inmate labor for personal and political gain. Ogeechee Circuit District Attorney Richard Mallard said he made the request to the GBI on Tuesday.
The report quoted former Screven County inmates and former deputies who said Sheriff Kile put county prisoners to work at his home, on his campaign signs, for his deputies and for churches and other private interests.
In the interview with WTOC, Sheriff Kile said prisoners volunteered to work at churches and were paid a minimum of $10 per hour. The television report did not address the work for the sheriff or for his deputies.
"If you go in there right now and ask, 'Who wants to clean up at XYZ Church in the county, to cut grass around a cemetery before a funeral tomorrow, I need five folks,' and you'd have 20 want to go," Sheriff Kile said in the report.
Mr. Jordan said Tuesday morning he knew nothing of a discretionary fund used to pay inmates, and that the county had never handled payroll or tax documents regarding inmate workers. He said county auditors weren't aware of any checks being cut to inmates.
Sheriff Kile returned a call to Mr. Jordan on Tuesday afternoon and told him he did not pay inmates to work and there was no such discretionary fund, Mr. Jordan said.
Sheriff Kile did not return a message left at his office Tuesday by The Chronicle.
If Sheriff Kile's claims had been true, it would have meant that inmates were being paid more than some deputies patrolling the county. Jailers' pay starts at $9.21 per hour, and most road deputies earn about $9.92 per hour before taxes, according to Dee Cail, an administrative assistant who handles human resources.
And the sheriff's defense wouldn't have changed much about the illegality of prisoners working at churches.
According to Gerry Weber, the legal director of the Georgia affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, using county money to pay inmates to work on church property would still violate the state constitution's gratuities clause, which says the government can't give assets away without compensation, and its establishment clause, which separates church and state.
The GBI is the second law enforcement agency that might be investigating the Screven County sheriff. Ed Reinhold, the supervising agent of the Augusta FBI office, said Monday the bureau will likely launch an investigation, too.
Both agencies investigated former Jenkins County Sheriff Bobby Womack, who was accused of using inmates for his lumber company, at his rental properties and at his residence, which was reported May 23 in The Chronicle.
Mr. Mallard said he is still waiting for the full investigative report on the Womack case.
Like Screven County, Jenkins County is also in Mr. Mallard's judicial circuit. He said he is concerned that two of the four sheriffs in his district are accused of illegal activity.
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