A federal court recognised what many have highlighted since Demps’ machinations were exposed last year before sentencing ex-Muscogee Superior Court Clerk supervisor Willie Demps to 12 years in federal prison for a financial scandal that cost Columbus nearly $7 million.
“It’s difficult to understand how this went undetected for so long,” said U.S. District Court Judge Clay Land on Thursday, after Demps apologised for stealing public funds and enlisting the help of friends and family.
Demps had just told Land that he was “really remorseful” for diverting monies to his personal use in 2010. Even though Demps worked for the clerk’s office from January 1989 to December 2019, FBI investigators indicated they found no records of money missing before 2010.
“I was ungrateful.” People were used. Demps, 64, told Land, “I took money that had been entrusted to me.” “I lied to several people and disappointed them… I’m not sure why I placed myself in this predicament.”
“My wife once told me that I would die old and alone,” he stated, referring to his often turbulent marriage. He didn’t want to die alone in prison, he claimed, because he has two 9-year-old twins.
Demps admitted to one count of bank fraud conspiracy and two charges of tax evasion on February 2nd. Land sentenced him to 145 months in prison and five years of supervised release, as well as $1,323,045 in compensation to the clerk’s office and $359,604 in restitution to the IRS.
He was the last of the eight suspects to be sentenced on Wednesday.
The question of how Demps got away with his robbery for so long remained unanswered after the court session.
The proof is in Demps had complete authority over money flowing into the clerk’s office and the records that kept track of those cash for more than 30 years, said to Assistant US Attorney Amy Helmick, allowing him to fabricate documents to mask his crimes, which no external audit had uncovered.
Helmick remarked, “He had the ideal employment for this con.”
Demps had an open safe in his office, from which he removed cash whenever he wanted, Helmick claimed, in addition to hiring employees to help him process checks he issued on clerk’s office accounts before pocketing the earnings for personal expenses and casino gaming.
She claimed, “He took cash in an amount we’ll never completely know.”
Investigators put the overall loss between 2010 and 2019 at $7 million, although the amount taken each year increased in 2019 when he wrote the phoney checks for his cohorts to cash.
Helmick added, “The cost to the city cannot be exaggerated.”
Besides recruiting people to help him cash checks he wrote on clerk’s office accounts, before pocketing the proceeds for personal expenses and casino gambling, Demps kept an open safe in his office from which he took cash whenever he wanted, Helmick said.
“He took cash in an amount we will never fully know,” she said.
Investigators estimated the total loss at $7 million from 2010 to 2019, but the yearly amount taken swelled in 2019 when he wrote the fraudulent checks for his cohorts to cash.
“The cost to the city truly cannot be overstated,” Helmick said.
That check-cashing scheme continued for a year after Superior Court Clerk Danielle Forte requested an internal audit when she won a special election in November 2018.
That election followed the death of Clerk Ann Hardman, who was elected in 2016 and died in office. Before Hardman, Clerk Linda Pierce held the position for 28 years.
Forte addressed the court Thursday, telling Land she started work on Nov. 14, 2018, and requested the internal audit on Nov. 26. Columbus Council approved her request on Dec. 4, she said.
Documents the Ledger-Enquirer obtained through an open-records request in Demps’ case included a March 2020 letter that Forte wrote to Columbus Mayor Skip Henderson, recounting the events that occurred after her audit request.
She wrote that the audit did not begin until September 2019, and immediately raised suspicions regarding Demps, spurring what authorities called Demps’ “abrupt retirement” on Dec. 2, 2019, the day he was supposed to meet with an auditor.
Demps called in sick that day, then went to the Government Center that night to remove records, and sent an email saying he was retiring, effective immediately.
Forte said she saw the email the next day, notified the auditors, and immediately shut off Demps’ access to the office, its bank accounts and its computer system.
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After Thursday’s court hearing, Forte x DCrecalled what she was told in 2019 about the audit’s delay.
“I was told that I was in a lineup,” she said, adding that other, earlier audit requests came first. “There were at least two times that I picked up the phone and called and said, ‘What’s going on?’”