COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — The man who masterminded a criminal conspiracy that stole millions of dollars from the Muscogee County court system was sentenced to 12 years and one month in federal prison Thursday.

Former Muscogee County Deputy Clerk Willie Demps, 64, of Phenix City, and five of his co-conspirators appeared in front of U.S. District Court Judge Clay Land. Demps was also ordered to pay more than $1.3 million in restitution.

Demps was sentenced on one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and two counts of tax evasion. He faced a maximum of 30 years in prison.

Mayor Skip Henderson released a statement in regards to Demps’ sentencing saying in part quote, “The criminal actions of Demps gravely impacted the City of Columbus and its citizens. Those funds could have been used for law enforcement, schools, parks and recreation and libraries. Demps’ outrageous criminal conduct lasted decades and cost the city millions of dollars.”

There was a safe in Demps’ office and he often took money from it, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Amy Helmick.

“Given his position of trust, he literally had an open safe in his office, from which he could take the public’s cash,” Helmick said. 

Demps has been in custody since his arrest last August and entered a guilty plea in front of Land on Feb. 1, 2022. News 3 broke this story when Demps was arrested on Aug. 18.

None of the co-defendants, with the exception of Demps, worked for the government. Land asked Demps if anyone else employed by government assisted in his crimes.

Demps responded, “Yes”

“There were others,” Judge Land asked.

Demps answered, “Well, yes.”

Demps did not name those individuals and his attorney, Charles Cox of Macon, told the court that those names have yet to be given to the FBI.

Demps admitted to stealing checks from the Superior Court and State Court clerk’s office, writing those checks for random amounts, usually in the $3,000 to $5,000 range, then having the co-defendants cash those checks at three local banks.

According to court documents, Demps worked for the Muscogee County Clerk for approximately 30 years and supervised money deposits received by the Clerk’s Office, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Middle District of Georgia.

Here’s how the government says the scheme worked:

The Clerk’s Office received money from fines and condemnations, and payments were frequently made in cash. From at least 2010 to 2019, Demps maintained a safe in his office to store sums of cash that were collected by the Clerk’s Office.

During the business day, this safe was rarely locked, even when Demps was away from his office. Demps (or his designee) was responsible for depositing cash received by the Clerk’s Office into an appropriate Clerk of Superior Court bank account. Records indicate that the Clerk’s Office received over $5.5 million in cash during the period of 2010-2019, yet only a single cash deposit of approximately $210 was made into official Columbus accounts in 2019.

No cash deposits were made in other years.

From Oct. 19, 2010, to approximately Nov. 27, 2019, Demps issued at least 330 Clerk of Superior Court checks payable to the named co-defendants, and to some individuals not named, with a face value of at least $1.3 million.

Bank records prior to Oct. 19, 2010, are not available, and the Muscogee County Clerk’s Office records prior to that date cannot be obtained. Demps would meet various co-defendants in locations away from his place of business at the Clerk’s Office to give the illicit checks to them to be cashed at banks in Columbus and in nearby Alabama.

The co-defendants cashed the checks and returned the money to Demps, who would give the participating co-defendant a portion of the money. Demps admits he used the money for personal expenses, to send money to foreign countries and to spend at casinos.

The following co-defendants were also sentenced on one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud:

Terry McBride, 43, of Smiths Station, was sentenced to 24 months in prison and ordered to pay $299,285 in restitution.

Samuel Cole, 72, of Columbus, was sentenced to 18 months in prison and ordered to pay $378,028 in restitution.

George Cook, 33, of Columbus, guilty of count one of indictment, sentenced to bureau prisons for a period of 1 day which would be time served. That will be followed by supervised release of 5 years. Cook ordered to pay $215,196 in restitution.

Rosalee Bassi, 66, pleaded guilty to one count of interstate transfer of stolen property and was received five years probation and ordered to pay $61,891 in restitution.

Lamarcus Palmer, 34, of Smiths Station, pleaded guilty to one count of misprision of a felony and received one year probation and ordered to pay $12,666 in restitution.

Two co-defendants, husband and wife, Curtis Porch, 48, and Dereen Porch, 43, of Columbus have entered guilty pleas and are scheduled to be sentenced by Land later this month.

According to court documents, Demps worked for the Muscogee County Clerk for approximately 30 years and supervised money deposits received by the Clerk’s Office, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Middle District of Georgia.

The Clerk’s Office received money from fines and condemnations, and payments were frequently made in cash. From at least 2010 to 2019, Demps maintained a safe in his office to store sums of cash that were collected by the Clerk’s Office.

During the business day, this safe was rarely locked, even when Demps was away from his office. Demps (or his designee) was responsible for depositing cash received by the Clerk’s Office into an appropriate Clerk of Superior Court bank account. Records indicate that the Clerk’s Office received over $5.5 million in cash during the period of 2010-2019, yet only a single cash deposit of approximately $210 was made into official Columbus accounts in 2019.

No cash deposits were made in other years.

In court, Demps apologized to the citizens of Columbus when asking for a lesser sentence.

“I have deceived and disappointed a lot of people and I know as long as I live, I will not be able to pay back all the money I have stole… My wife one said to me I would die old and alone, I don’t think I will die alone but I don’t want to die in prison. And I don’t want my children to see me die like that,:” Demps said. “I sat there for ten months, most nights awake, and I honestly couldn’t figure out why I put myself in this situation… I don’t know what was going on with me at the time… I don’t know, but I did it.”

FBI, IRS and the Columbus Police Department investigated the case.

Previous Coverage

Aug. 18, 2021: Exclusive: Former Muscogee County Superior Court employee, and others under federal indictment accused of stealing public funds

Aug. 19, 2021Willie Demps appears in federal court to face charges that he stole nearly $500,000 in Muscogee County court funds

Aug. 24, 2021: Two men accused of stealing nearly $500,000 in Muscogee County public funds get court-appointed attorneys

Aug. 25, 2021: Court testimony: Former Muscogee County deputy clerk was wiring large sums of money to Africa

Sept. 21, 2021: First guilty plea comes out of federal case where former deputy court clerk, others accused of stealing $467,000 in public funds

Oct. 5, 2021: Circle tightens on Willie Demps in Muscogee County federal fraud case as two more codefendants plead guilty

Oct. 27, 2021: Fourth guilty plea comes from Muscogee County public funds conspiracy

Nov. 30, 2021: Two more guilty pleas in federal case involving theft from Muscogee County Clerk’s Office

Jan. 31, 2022: Former Muscogee County court employee Willie Demps to appear in court Tuesday, could enter a guilty plea

Feb. 1, 2022: Former Muscogee County Chief Deputy Clerk pleads guilty to felony charges

Feb. 10, 2022: Federal judge rejects guilty plea, from a co-defendant in Willie Demps public corruption

Mar. 1, 2022: Final defendant pleads guilty in Muscogee County Clerk fraud case

June 2, 2022: U.S. attorney tells News 3 that the investigation into Willie Demps’ fraud scheme continues