Clinch Sheriff, Judge face new federal charges - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Clinch Sheriff, Judge face new federal charges

March 12, 2008

Valdosta - New indictments Wednesday against a south Georgia sheriff and associate Magistrate Judge as a federal investigation into the Alapaha Judicial Circuit continues.

A new federal superseding indictment charges Clinch County Sheriff Winston Peterson with four crimes. He's charged with perjury, forced labor and two counts of obstruction of justice.

A set back for his attorneys after three of the five original charges against Peterson filed last November were dismissed.

"A superseding indictment replaces another indictment.  This completely replaces the original indictment and the court dismissed three of the five counts on the original indictment and then we have a new indictment that has four counts," says Alex Zipperer, one of Peterson's Attorneys.

The original indictment, charging Peterson with extortion, two counts obstruction, force labor and perjury is now null and void.  His attorneys entered a not guilty plea in a federal courtroom in Valdosta Wednesday and say they will work to get all the charges dropped.

"So the court as you heard says we have time to file new motions on this new indictment. We will work to dismiss these new charges as well," Zipperer says. 

They say they'll also file a motion to unseal wiretaps recorded by the FBI. The wiretaps recorded conversations of numerous officials in the Alapaha Judicial Circuit including Chief Judge Brooks Blitch.

They say the information recorded may help them with their case.  "It's sealed which means we don't know everything that's there so eventually we want to learn as much as we can so we are going to request the court to consider that."

An associate Magistrate Judge in Clinch County also faces more federal charges.

Linda Peterson told a federal judge she is not guilty of perjury and conspiracy to commit extortion by a public official.

She's accused of lying to investigators when questioned about suggesting her father act as a bondsman for a fee which would go toward her home renovations.

The indictment says the extortion charges stem from a case where she suggested someone pay money to avoid arrest and incarceration.

Both trial for both Linda and Winston will most likely be scheduled this summer.

Linda was suspended with pay shortly after the original indictment last September.  Sheriff Peterson is still on the job.

Several other county officials were caught up in the FBI investigation that centered around Judge Brooks Blitch.

The former clerk of courts Danny Leccese pleaded guilty to mail fraud in August of 2007.

The deputy clerk Melinda Davis and a deputy sheriff Sissy Suggs were forced to resign.

An ethics investigation was launched against Juvenile Court Judge Berrien Sutton.

Blitch does not yet face criminal charges but the Judicial Qualifications Commission filed complaints that could result in his removal from the bench.

Clinch, Berrien, Cook, Atkinson, and Lanier are all part of the Alapaha Judicial Circuit.

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