It was a little over a year ago that FBI agents gave Augusta Commissioner Sammie Sias two legal-sized envelopes at the start of the Augusta Commission’s legal session, likely subpoenas for records.
The agent’s visit to the commission chambers came on the heels of an August 8 raid of his home by the FBI and GBI, during which time they removed computers and numerous boxes of items.
The Augusta Richmond County Commission had referred concerns raised by Sias’ former mistress, Willa Hilton, to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation in July of 2019, which resulted in the investigation hanging over the commission more than a year later.
At the time, Sias was quoted as saying he was “extremely pleased” with the probe.
The commissioner’s former mistress, Willa Hilton-who managed the Jamestown Community center for 12 years- accused Sias of forging invoices and misusing sales tax funds intended for improvements at the city-owned Jamestown Community Center.
The Sandridge Community Association, led by Sias, received $312,800 in sales tax dollars for Jamestown since 2007. Sias stepped down from his role while under investigation.
Yet, over a year later, there is still no resolution to the case.
In May of this year, the LA Times reported that Federal prosecutors and agents have delayed executing some search warrants, interviewing witnesses and serving subpoenas in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing restrictions.
The result, Justice Department officials said, has been a massive drop in the number of people charged with federal crimes, like wire fraud and tax evasion. Indictments dropped about 75% in April of this year.
“We have had to be very careful about cases we are going to proceed on,” said Justin Herdman, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Ohio.
Has Sias been given a pass? Insiders think not. According to Pew Research, “nearly 80,000 people were defendants in federal criminal cases in fiscal 2018, but just 2% of them went to trial. The overwhelming majority (90%) pleaded guilty instead, while the remaining 8% had their cases dismissed.”
The federal government notoriously takes their time, which helps explain the ridiculously high percentage of guilty pleas.
Yet, more than a year for a sitting commissioner seems extremely long given the fact the subject of the investigation is still making decisions on the city’s behalf, such as the next special purpose local option sales tax.
Being accused of stealing government funds, while making decisions on where to spend government funds, doesn’t sit right with many in Augusta.