It was a simple scam: allegedly using fraudulent identification and forged signatures to obtain unclaimed cash bond refunds from the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office.
That’s what two people, including a former employee of the sheriff’s office, are on trial for this week.
Dorcas Jernigan, a former manager in the civil process unit of the sheriff’s office, and co-defendant Nathan Hoyte Jones are on trial for 81 alleged acts of theft, forgery, bribery and false swearing from November 2007 through July 2008.
At the beginning of the trial on Feb. 15, Assistant District Attorney John Melvin presented a surprise witness that caught the defense team off guard. It was DeKalb Sheriff Thomas Brown, who said he had originally hired Jernigan to work in the jail division.
Brown said Jernigan was later promoted to manager of the civil process unit, which holds cash bonds until the associated court case has been disposed of. As a manager of the unit, Jernigan had access to a signature stamp for Brown and had authority to use it for refund checks up to $5,000.
Brown said that prior to June 2008, he had no complaints about Jernigan’s adherence to policy.
Jones and a third person, Shandarrick Barnes, are accused of using their company, Refund Solutions, to fraudulently obtain funds that should have been returned to people who had posted cash bonds.
When a person is arrested, he or she has the choice of using real estate as collateral, using a bonding company, or simply paying cash, in order to get out of jail until the court proceedings are disposed of.
When cash is used for bond, the money is held by the sheriff’s office until the case is completed. The person putting up the bond money then has five years to obtain the funds before the money is turned over to the state.
The racketeering case came to light when Frank DiRocco, who testified for the state on Feb. 15, went to the civil process unit to recover a cash bond that he had posted for an individual. During the process, he learned that a check had already been issued to him through Refund Solutions using a fake drivers’ license and forged signature. Although there was a discrepancy with the $38,500 in bond money, DiRocco told the jury that Jernigan issued him a check that same day.
Another witness, Milton Reed, said Jones approached him about $1,600 waiting for him from a bank account he had with an aunt who had died. Reed said he filled out the proper paperwork and received the check.
Melton, the assistant district attorney, showed Reed a check for $59,000 with his name on it. Reed said he had never seen it. The money was from property owned by Reed’s aunt. When Reed’s testimony was over, Melton told him that the civil process unit still had $59,000 available for him to pick up immediately.
Keith Adams, Jernigan’s attorney, said the prosecution “will not be able to show or even infer that Ms. Jernigan knew that they [Jones and Barnes] were creating false documents.”
“There will not be one shred of evidence that she was involved at all,” Adams said.
Jones’ attorney, Juwayn Haddad, told the jury that the racketeering scheme was the brainchild of Barnes. Haddad said his client was simply a courier for Refund Solutions.
In 2009, Jernigan, Jones and Barnes were indicted by a grand jury on two counts under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations-Acquiring Property through a Pattern of Racketeering (RICO) Act.
Barnes pled guilty in 2010 for his role in fraudulently obtaining more than $410,000 from the DeKalb Sheriff’s Office and the Cobb County Superior Court Clerk’s Office. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, 20 years probation and was ordered to pay restitution in the amounts of $350,168.72 and $61,550 to both the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office and the Cobb County Superior Court Clerk’s Office respectively.
Barnes is expected to testify for the state this week.