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Ex-speaker’s tax payment stemmed from 2007 embezzlement case
Sept. 21, 2009 — Former House Speaker Terry Coleman left elective office three years ago, but he says he still can’t close out his campaign fund until he can unload property given as restitution for embezzlement by a former employee.
Candice Lynn Sheffield, who ran Coleman’s local legislative office, pleaded guilty to theft by taking and received seven years’ probation in 2007, Dodge County District Attorney Timothy Vaughn said today. Sheffield avoided a year in a detention center, he said, by agreeing to pay $173,257 in restitution (including accounting fees and interest).
Sheffield, 33, offered to sell the undeveloped 11 acres in Henry County, which she had inherited, and give the proceeds to Coleman, Vaughn said. When she could not sell it, he said, Coleman agreed to accept the land instead.
The land was deeded in April 2008 to “Terry L. Coleman Campaign,” property records show. Coleman still can’t sell it, though, because of another lien on the property.
The transaction came to light Thursday when Atlanta Unfiltered reported that Coleman’s campaign fund paid $3,758 in May in property taxes. Tax records show Sheffield owed three years of back taxes on the tract, which Coleman’s campaign paid after Henry County’s tax commissioner placed a lien on the property.
Under Georgia law, property taxes are not normally considered an appropriate campaign expense. In this case, Coleman said, “we either had to pay it or they were going to sell it for the taxes.”
Vaughn said Sheffield is reimbursing Coleman’s campaign for the back taxes and still owes the campaign $2,218 for that.
Coleman said he discovered problems with his campaign account after Republicans took control of the Georgia House of Representatives in 2004 and replaced him as speaker.
“When I left the speaker’s office was when we started sitting down and looking at everything and asking questions,” he said.
Campaign disclosure reports show Sheffield collected a check for about $345 as her weekly salary. But the checks were issued much more often than once a week.
In 2004, for instance, Sheffield received four paychecks in January, 12 in February and 11 in March.
“Evidently every time I’d write a check, she’d write one to herself,” Coleman said.
Coleman, who is now a deputy to Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin, said he has tried to put the incident out of his mind.
“When you lose something like that, it’s just not an easy thing to deal with,” he said.
Coleman was devastated when he discovered Sheffield’s theft, Vaughn said: “He and his wife treated this girl almost as if she was their daughter. It was just kind of your worst nightmare that someone you had been good to, stole from you.”