Former sheriff pleads guilty to stealing taxpayer money - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Former sheriff pleads guilty to stealing taxpayer money

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March 12, 2003

Macon-- Donald Fender quit his job as Echols County Sheriff Friday but wouldn't say why. The reason, both FBI and GBI agents have been building evidence against the 37-year-old for years, to prove he pocketed money from traffic violations while he was a judge. 

Donald Fender enters the U.S. District courthouse in Macon, where he admitted to stealing more than 16 thousand dollars worth of taxpayer money.

"Is there any explanation you can give to the citizens of Echols County?" I asked the former Sheriff and judge. He had no comment.

Though he won't say why he did it, we do know how, and it had nothing to do with the past two years he spent as Sheriff, but his previous job with Echols county in 1998 and 1999.

"The initial request we had to investigate came in from the D.A.'s office in Valdosta with problems of money being taken from magistrate court during his tenure as judge," GBI agent Ronnie Thompson said.

Fender would assess one fine to speeders, then go back and change the books to erase the fines or decrease them, pocketing the rest of the cash. But it didn't become apparent until he gave up his gavel for a badge in 2001. He turned that badge in Friday.

"We've been Investigating him for two years, started in Feb 2001, we did several audits," Agent Thompson said.

Fender was never indicted in this case. He had the right to a grand jury then a jury, but instead he plead guilty in U.S. District Court. He walked out of the courtroom free on a ten thousand dollar bond while he awaits sentencing. He'll find out his fate in about two months, which could be as much as ten years in jail and a $250,000 fine.

FBI agents were involved because Echols County receives federal grant assistance, and under U.S. Code that made Fender eligible for federal charges. A former deputy took over as Sheriff Monday. At age 26, Randy Courson is the second youngest sheriff in the state.

posted at 6:15 p.m. by dave.d'marko@walb.com