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Ex-Fulton sheriff skates on $40K in illegal donations
By JIM WALLS
Eight years after the fact, former Fulton County Sheriff Jacqueline Barrett is off the hook for accepting $40,000 in illegal campaign contributions that played a part in her removal from office.
The Georgia Campaign Finance Commission today unanimously dismissed a 2003 complaint over the Barrett campaign’s receipt of four donations of $10,000, each far exceeding the $2,000 limit then in place.
Barrett’s attorney, citing a court ruling that the state’s lawyers have disputed, argued that a 1-year statute of limitations had long since expired in her case. Moreover, attorney Doug Chalmers said, Barrett never even received notice of an administrative hearing as required by the commission’s rules.
“As a matter of fundamental fairness,” he said, “at this point, it is necessary to dismiss this case.”
Barrett’s was one of a few dozen ethics cases that slipped into limbo several years ago after they were referred to the Attorney General’s Office to pursue administrative penalties or possible criminal prosecution.
The former sheriff received the donations in the spring of 2003 shortly after agreeing to invest $7.2 million of money under her control with a Florida investment broker. Much of the money constituted the left-over proceeds of tax forfeiture sales that were being held until they could be returned to property owners or their creditors.
Risky investments lost about $2 million, but the county eventually recovered all but $500,000.
Three of the $10,000 donations came from three different businessmen within days of their receiving loans from a portion of that investment. Barrett returned the contributions two to three months later, after the donors asked for the money back, but did not report receiving them until news of the suspicious investments surfaced a year later.
At the time, Barrett acknowledged the donations exceeded state limits but denied the money was intended for personal use.
Barrett, who dropped plans to seek re-election in 2004, was suspended for her final months in office while the investment scheme was under federal investigation.
Byron Rainner, the investment broker, was convicted of mail fraud and sentenced to 30 months in prison for his role in the sceme. Caudell Jones, Barrett’s chief deputy, died in 2008 while serving an 15-month prison sentence for soliciting a $10,000 payment from Rainner.