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Grand jury: Contractors did no wrong, hauling away county property

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

A grand jury, looking into missing metal furniture and appliances that disappeared from the Lovejoy jail during renovations, has found that contractors did nothing wrong by hauling away the items.

There was, reportedly, about 2,800 pounds of unusable metal equipment, at the vacant, Clayton County jail, removed by contractors during renovations. According to the presentment released by the grand jury, the items included old toilets, piping, scrap metal, bookshelves and sinks. One contractor called it "just junk, some of it rusty."

According to the grand jury presentment, GEO Group contractors were renovating the now-vacant, 192,000-square-foot, former county jail, after the organization agreed to lease the facilities for more than $3 million a year. During the renovations, the contractors asked county officials to get rid of old furniture and appliances within five days.

Construction employees said they got rid of the "rusty junk," when the county didn't remove it after more than a week. Contractors determined the items were unusable. Four truckloads of the metal furniture and appliances were hauled down to a recycling plant in Griffin.

The recycling plant paid $2,240 for the scrap metal.

The contractors reported they had donated more than half of the money to a fish fry, and offered to pay back the remaining $1,200.

County Attorney Michael Smith said the items still belonged to the county, even if they had been left at the jail. Smith told the grand jury that the county's ownership of the metal items was covered in the contract.

According to policy, all county property is included in an inventory, and is marked with a tag. Only county officials are allowed to dispose of tagged property.

The employees working on the 15 acres in Lovejoy thought, though, that the county had abandoned the items when it didn't haul them away.

Crandle Bray, former chairman of the county's Board of Commissioners, and an attorney for GEO Group, said the contract specifically stated the county was supposed to act within five days.

According to the grand jury presentment, Bray said the metal equipment was getting in the way of the renovations, and the county had not fulfilled its contractual obligations, abandoning the equipment.

Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell, asked about the missing items by a reporter, said he didn't know the details. He said he didn't understand why the grand jury was investigating, rather than the police. No police report was filed alleging theft, he said.

The missing materials were reported to the district attorney's office for a grand jury review by a county employee, who suspected it was stolen, or had political overtones, said John Turner, executive assistant district attorney.

The grand jury didn't find any political deals connected to the disappearance of the 2,800 pounds of metal. The grand jury "concluded that the county was negligent and inefficient on the issue," and "found that the contractors did no wrong."

The contractors were not asked to return the remaining money.