GBI investigates former city probation provider

PORTERDALE -- The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is investigating East Georgia Correctional Services, a former probation services provider for the city of Covington.

The investigation was launched at the request of the Covington Police Department, according to GBI spokeswoman Sherry Lang.

"On June 5, 2012, the Covington Police Department requested the GBI assist on an investigation to determine if EGCS was charging probationers more than the contract stated," Lang stated via email. A search warrant was executed on June 27 of this year at EGCS's office, Lang said. The address on the company's website is listed as 2108 Main St., Porterdale.

"The investigation is still active, therefore no additional information can be released at this time," she said.

Covington Police Chief Stacey Cotton said because EGCS was doing business with the city, the Police Department requested an outside agency to investigate to avoid a conflict of interest. Cotton said he could not comment on the investigation.

An EGCS representative could not be reached comment.

The City Council opted not to renew EGCS's contract when it expired in March 2012. However, after a former employee publicly complained that ECGS did not have a fair chance to bid on a new contract, the city offered a one-year extension. ECGS rejected the offer. The city is now contracting with Judicial Alternatives of Georgia.

Results of an audit of probation services last year did not clear up whether ECGS had mishandled funds because auditors did not have the authority to ask for ECGS records. The audit did result in policy changes, such as establishment of guidelines for the probation company to use for all community service cases. ECGS had the ability to request fine suspensions without any guidelines and the judge reviewed and approved those. The auditor recommended establishment of guidelines and "a responsible party monitoring the situation to ensure the cases meet the guidelines prior to submissions to the judge for final approval."

Also at the recommendation of the audit, the court now has access to the probation company's data on their software allowing them to look at individual cases as well as totals. The probation company provides a monthly report detailing by receipt each collection made and total dollar amount collected that can be traced back to a receipt given to the probationer.

Also, the court can now spot check individual accounts when payment is received to make sure the city is receiving 50 percent of all collections, as agreed upon in the contract with the new probation services provider.

The audit was initially recommended by former Interim Municipal Court Judge Ben Hendricks and, later, when the council did not take action, by former Municipal Court Judge David Strickland. After he was not reappointed, Strickland wrote to the city alleging several infractions by East Georgia Correctional Services, the former provider.

Strickland obtained more than 150 pages of documents through Open Records requests to the Georgia County and Municipal Probation Advisory Council and the Georgia Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, which he turned over to the city.

Information obtained by Strickland and provided by the two agencies shows that EGCS paid about $21,000 less in fees than it reported to a state agency.

The law requires probation providers to collect $9 per month from active probationers and submit that to the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. Based on documents from 2010 and 2011, EGCS did not send any money or required reports for eight out of 24 months, and, from the records it did send in, what was paid was $20,946 less than EGCS reported it had paid to the city of Covington and the Georgia County and Municipal Probation Advisory Council.

Strickland also points out in his letter to the city that in reports to the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, during 2010 and 2011, in not one instance did the number of probationers reported for the beginning of one quarter equal the number reported for the end of the preceding quarter, "despite the fact that the new period must certainly start the instant the prior quarter concluded."

Also, the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council's January 2012 audit of EGCS reported that cases were inexplicably switched back and forth from active to inactive and back again, without a court order signed by Strickland.

Strickland was not reappointed following complaints about him to the city, including a former employee of East Georgia, who alleged "unethical and unprofessional" behavior by Strickland, citing a personal relationship with another former employee as well as alleging retaliation against the company after that employee was fired.