Georgia government employees stole Social Security funds and used taxpayer money on personal items

WRITER’S NOTE: The following is a monthly compilation of alleged or documented stories about waste, fraud or abuse of taxpayer money or taxpayer-funded resources throughout Georgia. Material was gathered using government documents, the Georgia Public Policy Foundation’s original reporting and/or previously published news articles.

When They Said There Wasn’t Any More Money for Social Security, They Weren’t Kidding: A claims specialist at the Social Security Administration’s field office in Decatur illegally accessed the records of six Social Security Income (SSI) beneficiaries and used them to steal more than $15,000.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia, Latonja Goodrum used the SSI records to divert one-time lump sum payments to her PayPal and bank accounts.  

“To conceal her scheme, Goodrum, once the deposits arrived in her PayPal account, re-accessed the beneficiaries’ Social Security records to restore their true direct deposit banking information. Goodrum stole more than $15,000 in this way,” U.S. Attorney’s said.

“A supervisor eventually detected the fraud and contacted the Social Security Administration – Office of the Inspector General, which launched an investigation. Goodrum admitted her crime when confronted by law enforcement and has since been terminated from her position.” 

Sentencing for Goodrum, 55, of Stone Mountain, is scheduled for January 22, 2024. 

Unused Beds, Courtesy of Taxpayers: The federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) paid more than $12.6 million in taxpayer money to a Georgia immigrant detention center for unused bed space.   

This is according to a recent audit from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Inspector General. DHS officials discovered the problem during an unannounced visit to the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin.

“The contract with Stewart requires ICE to pay the facility for a guaranteed minimum of 1,600 detainees at a fixed, daily rate of $67.86 per bed. The cost to house detainees at or below the guaranteed minimum is $108,576 per day, resulting in a total annualized cost of $39.6 million,” DHS auditors wrote.

“We analyzed 12 months of population counts at Stewart, from November 2021 through November 2022, and found that detainee populations were consistently below the contractual guaranteed minimum amount of 1,600 detainees, with an average detainee population of 1,088 for all 12 months. As a result, ICE paid $12.6 million for unused bed space in a 1-year timeframe, or nearly a third of the total guaranteed minimum expenditures.” 

Housing Authority Employee Steals from the Feds: The former payroll clerk for the Milledgeville Housing Authority (MHA) admitted she stole $575,000 of taxpayer money.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Georgia, this woman, Jennifer Kay Smith, 49, of Eatonton, overpaid herself.

“According to court documents, Smith was the employee in charge of payroll with the MHA, a public housing authority mostly funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). A coworker discovered that Smith had been stealing money from MHA since Jan. 2021,” U.S. Attorney’s wrote.

“Smith would record her normal time in payroll, then add vacation and sick leave time on top of that so she was being paid for more than 40 hours per week. No one at MHA checked her work. Smith paid herself more than $40,000 above her regular salary in 2021 and more than $500,000 above her regular salary between Jan. 1 and Aug. 11, 2022.”

Smith pleaded guilty late last month to one count of federal program theft. She faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison followed by three years of supervised release and a maximum fine of $250,000. 

Court officials have not yet sentenced Smith. She is not eligible for parole. 

Tim “The Toolman” Taylor Never Tried to Get Away with This: The former director of the Rossville Public Works allegedly used city funds on personal expenses.

This is according to the Georgia Sun, which reported that authorities charged that man, Mark Harris, with theft by taking and making false statements and writings.

“At the heart of this controversy? Misuse of the City of Rossville’s credit card. On the 14th of September, Lookout Mountain District Attorney Clay Fuller initiated an inquiry into Harris’s actions. Fast forward to October 4, and a search of Harris’s home reveals a trove of items, among them a Toro self-propelled lawn mower. All were apparently bought using the city’s dime,” the Georgia Sun reported.

“According to the GBI, by day’s end, Harris had handed back even more items, ranging from a DeWalt standing spotlight to a Midea window air conditioning unit. The recovered items found their way back to their rightful owner: the City of Rossville Public Works Department.”

Harris also allegedly used taxpayer money to buy, among other things, a utility table, a DeWalt 4000 Psi gas pressure washer, multiple DeWalt tools and a window air conditioning unit.

The Sun did not quantify the financial value of how much Harris allegedly stole. The website reported that he was released on bond from the Walker County Jail.  

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