MACON, GA (WALB) - The Former chief judge of the Alapaha Judicial Circuit faces 14 federal charges.
Brooks Blitch III was charged with various fraud and corruption allegations, from fixing cases to releasing inmates early. He made his first appearance in a Macon federal courtroom Friday afternoon.
Blitch pled not guilty to seven mail fraud charges, thee counts of conspiracy to commit fraud, two counts of retailiation against a witness and one count extortion and conspiracy to commit mail fraud.
He was then released on a $50,000 bond.
The United States Attorney's office held a press conference outlining the charges against Blitch. They say it's the culmination of a very long, very detailed investigation.
Federal agents picked Blitch up from his beach house in Florida early Friday morning and transported him to Macon.
Prosecutors say it's a complicated investigation that began for one simple reason. "To remove corruption and those involved in that type of activity, " said FBI Agent Gregory Jones.
The charges accuse Blitch of a variety of fraudulent activity like creating positions as a financial favor, including an unneeded juvenile court judgeship for Berrien Sutton and urging Adel Police and Cook County commissioners not to hire a former GBI agent, because he was a part of an investigation that involved his son, Brooks Blitch IV, and an alleged arson as his Ford dealership.
They hope the investigation will put an end to illegal spending and fraudulent activity in the circuit and put the power back where it belongs-- with the taxpayers. "The public deserves their money to spent the way our laws and politicians say it ought to be. Not by those in public office," says U. S. Attorney Maxwell Wood.
More than one dozen officials have been indicted as part of the four year investigation but federal agents say more charges may be coming. "Something of this magnitude and an investigation that has taken this long to come to prosecution doesn't just end with just these arrests," Wood said.
One of his lawyers, former U. S. Attorney Donnie Dixon, tells us it all came as a huge surprise and caught everyone involved completely off guard.
"I did not anticipate being in Macon today, but we were able to make it, and make our appearance with Judge Blitch," said Dixon.
Former State Court Judge Berrien Sutton and his wife Lisa were also indicted, along with Clinch County Attorney George Bessonette and Nashville native Hayward Collier.
Berrien and Lisa Sutton face charges for mail fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud, Bessonette with perjury, false statements and conspiracy to commit fraud, and Collier faces perjury and conspiracy to commit fraud charges as well.
These new charges bring the total number of indicted officials in the Alapaha Judicial Circuit to 13.
Berrien and Lisa Sutton and George Bessonette are expected to appear in Albany federal court Monday.
These arrests are the latest in a shakeup in the Alapaha Judicial Circuit. Just last week, Clinch County Associate Magistrate Judge Linda Peterson was convicted of perjury and making false statements and will be sentenced within 60 days.
Clinch County Sheriff Winston Peterson is awaiting trial on perjury and using inmate labor charges.
Lanier County sheriff's candidate Darrell Watson pleaded not guilty of perjury and obstruction of justice.
Suspended Cordele public defender Tim Eidson pleaded not guilty to making a false statement and obstruction of justice, and attorney Robert Sumner pleaded not guilty to perjury and obstruction of justice.
Attorney George McCraine was also indicted for extortion and false statements.
Former Berrien County Sheriff Jerry Brogdon earlier pleaded guilty to a federal gun charge and got five years probation.
Clinch Superior Clerk of Courts Danny Lecesse has resigned.
Deputy clerk of courts Melinda Davis and Deputy Sheriff Sissy Suggs resigned to avoid prosecution.
Former Clinch Juvenile Court Judge Berrien Sutton resigned to avoid ethics charges.