COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — A longtime Muscogee County court clerk and seven others are facing a laundry list of federal fraud charges in connection with what authorities say is the theft of nearly $500,000 in public funds.
WRBL.com broke this story online Wednesday night. And Thursday when four of the eight co-defendants appeared in federal court, News 3 was the only media outlet in the court.
Willie Demps spent 30 years in the Muscogee County Superior/State Court’s Clerk’s office. Much of that time he was the assistant chief deputy clerk and finance director.
He abruptly retired on Dec. 2, 2019 during a transitional audit called for by newly-elected Clerk Danielle Forte.
Thursday, he was in Lee County, Ala. Detention Center clothes as he appeared in the downtown Columbus Federal Courthouse for a bond hearing in front of Magistrate Judge Stephen Hyles.
Now Demps is facing decades in prison on a 71-count indictment that alleges he and seven co-conspirators stole $467,331 by fraud. They were allegedly cashing checks stolen from the Clerk’s office.
According to the indictment, it all went down between January and November 2019.
Demps is the only public employee named in the indictment.
The others named were Curtis Porch, Dereen Porch, Terry McBride, Rosalee Bassi, Lamarcus Palmer, George Cook and Samuel Cole.
The indictment alleges that Demps was the mastermind.
All of the money the defendants are accused of stealing are public funds. The money came from fines collected for felony and misdemeanor criminal offenses, forfeitures resulting from criminal activities, and certain monies received from condemnation accounts.
All eight of the co-defendants were indicted on Aug. 12 by a grand jury in the Middle District of Georgia. That indictment was under seal until late Wednesday.
Along with Demps, Palmer, Curtis Porch, and Dereen Porch appeared in court Thursday morning. The Porches, also under an earlier unrelated indictment on theft of COVID relief funds, were each released on $10,000 bonds.
Demps was to be represented by Stacey Jackson, but the Columbus defense attorney withdrew from the case because of a conflict. Palmer is trying to find an attorney.
Demps and Palmer are being held without bond until Tuesday, when a new hearing was scheduled. Prosecutor Mel Hyde has asked the court to hold Demps without bond because he’s considered a flight risk.
William Kendrick is representing Curtis Porch and Ralston Jarrett is representing Dereen Porch.
Here’s what Kendrick and Jarrett are saying:
“No comment,” Kendrick said. “We are going to have to get to the bottom of the case.”
Jarrett was more to the point.
“No comment,” Jarrett.
Forté did releases a statement but declined to be interviewed.
“While I cannot comment specifically about the details in the indictment, suffice it to say that as Clerk of Superior Court, I am committed to adhering to the highest level of ethical standards and accountability and have instituted financial controls and sound measures to protect the integrity of the Superior Court Clerk’s Office and to protect the citizens of Columbus, Georgia,” she said in a prepared statement.