COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — Last week, a former Muscogee County courts employee was sentenced to more than 12 years in federal prison for stealing millions in public funds.
Superior and State Court Clerk Danielle Forté sat down with News 3’s today to answer questions about the massive public corruption scandal involving longtime deputy clerk Willie Demps.
Over the 10 months this scandal has been in the news, Danielle Forté has issued a number of statements. Because it was an ongoing federal investigation, this was the first time she has entertained questions for News 3.
The first question is the most obvious one: How much money do you think Demps actually stole?
“Oh, there’s no telling,” Forté said. “We could only go back as far as 2010 based on bank records. But all signs indicated he had been doing this since before 2010.”
That’s the multi-million dollar question that doesn’t have a good answer.
Demps worked for the clerk’s office for three decades until he abruptly resigned in December 2019 amid an audit that turned into an FBI investigation.
That’s when the depth of his deception – converting court funds for his own use – began to be known.
“From $1.3 million to $8 million is also what I have heard,” Forté said. “This would have been, of course, before my tenure. But those were also numbers shared with me.”
Demps admitted to stealing about $450,000 during the more than a year he worked for Forté. She took office in November 2018. Most of Demps’ tenure was spent under Clerk Linda Pierce.
And the criminal investigation is not over. A U.S. attorney tells News 3. Peter Leary told News 3 that there is still an ongoing federal criminal investigation.
“That is news to me,” Forté said. “It’s not surprising. But it’s definitely news to me.”
But it stands to reason. Of the eight people convicted in the check-cashing scam, only Demps worked for the government. Last week during the sentencing, Demps told Judge Clay Land that there were any government employees involved in the theft. Demps said yes.
“There is a great possibility that other Columbus Consolidated Government employees were being looked at or may be looked at, maybe a part of the investigation,” Forté said. “And once the indictment came, including the superseding statement which extended the amount back to 2010, I was surprised that Willie was the only city employee. I was surprised. But I have no personal knowledge as to who they are looking at or where that may lead.”