Sylvester city councilman under investigation by GBI

Sylvester city councilman under investigation by GBI

SYLVESTER, Ga. (WALB) - A Sylvester City Council member is being investigated by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI), according to Nelly Miles, the GBI public relations director.

Miles told WALB that District Attorney Paul Bowden requested that GBI’s assistance investigating Councilman Larry Johnson and the City of Sylvester.

Johnson and the city are being investigated on allegations of theft and violation of oath of office, Miles said.

Johnson took a plea deal in 2012 to serve probation and pay a fine after he was charged with three counts of financial transaction card fraud, in connection to the theft of inmates’ personal information at the Worth County Jail.

In 2018, Sylvester Mayor Bill Yearta and the NAACP called for Johnson’s resignation after 24 years amid controversy with other city leaders. The group also argued that because Johnson is a convicted felon he should not be on the council.

WALB spoke to Yearta Thursday about the investigation. He said he doesn’t “know a lot of details. Not a lot to share. The city is going to cooperate with the GBI in anything they need.”

Yearta also said that GBI agents were at city hall Wednesday.

We attempted to contact Councilman Johnson Thursday for comment, he has not returned our calls.

People who live in Sylvester said they hope a GBI investigation into Johnson will bring forward the truth about their city government.

While most Yearta’s responses were ‘no comment’, the Sylvester NAACP said they knew it was coming.

“I just been praying for the city,” said Willie Mae Marlin, a resident who caught it as a surprise. “Like, wow.”

WALB asked if it came as a shock to Yearta.

“A total shock, I’d rather not comment on that,” said Yearta.

Marlin said actions like this hurt the city.

“People like that in leadership, and in leadership there is a certain way you got to walk,” explained Marlin.

A walk that the NAACP President said Johnson strayed from.

"We shouldn’t have a convicted felon sitting on our council,” said President Benjamin Whidby.

Whidby said this is a reminder for when the organization called for Johnson’s resignation in 2018 for card fraud charges back in 2012.

"You know, it wasn’t a surprise that it would happen again,” Whidby explained.

Marlin said for the city’s sake, she can only hope the investigation brings truth.

“Everybody just need to do the right thing,” said Marlin.

This is a developing story and WALB will provide updates as details into this investigation come in.

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