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Vital Records chief ‘paranoid’ about job — here’s why
Georgia’s $96,000-a-year vital records director was “very paranoid about his job and was always afraid that he was going to lose it,” a GBI investigative report says.
Now we know why.
The GBI file, released Tuesday, shows co-workers found six boxes of unprocessed paperwork in director Richard Wheat’s office over spring break, and even more files in his car. Wheat’s boss called the GBI in after subordinates confirmed the backlog of paperwork in his office. Wheat (right) was fired April 30.
The backed-up paperwork included three boxes of unanswered requests for name changes on birth certificates, the GBI’s report shows. Wheat promised a week before his vacation to catch up on the paperwork, but “he had not even scratched the surface” by the time he left town.
While Wheat was away, public health director Dr. Sandra Ford sent staffers to search his office and found even more disturbing documents – unprotected Witness Protection files for about 15 people in the federal program.
The files had been moved from another supervisor’s office two years earlier, after the state had stopped handling Witness Protection cases. “Wheat said he would find out what to do with the files and handle them appropriately, but he never did,” the GBI report said.
The files are now at the U.S. Marshal’s Office, which told investigators it did not believe any witness’s identity had been compromised.
Wheat’s deputy, Romeo Stockett, told the GBI the office had a big problem with case files stopping at the director’s office: “They would just pile up.” Wheat’s secretary said he had never given her a document to file in his two years on the job.
Stockett also told investigators that the office under Wheat had followed a “five-year rule” that allowed people to change their names or alter birth certificates without a court order. The rule allowed such changes for people who could provide supporting records from an employer or doctor.
Stockett told GBI investigators that he believed his boss “was in way over his head” — because Wheat had told him so. “Wheat never thought he would even get this job in the first place,” the investigative report says.
Wheat was hired in 2006 from Michigan, where he was a vital records manager for the state.
On his return from vacation April 13, Wheat was suspended with pay. He acknowledged to investigators “that he did not get rid of items very easily. He advised that he was trying to clean up piles of paper on his desk and he was sure that there were some original birth records that were left on his desk.”
In the clutter, investigators said, co-workers found old checks “that were so old they could not be cashed.”
Wheat insisted, however, that a name change still required a court order on his watch. But, the report said, “he could not say for sure” that documents had not been issued under the five-year rule without a court’s permission.
Wheat insisted he had never changed any records for money and had never been asked to. The GBI agreed, determining Wheat had no criminal intent to break the law.
“Stockett advised that Richard Wheat was really a nice guy,” the report said.