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Sheriff's accountant alleges misuse of money

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill looted money from a drug forfeiture fund and a vending machine fund, spending it wildly, according to a suit filed by the Sheriff's Office's former accountant.

The accountant, Pamela Blasingim, was demoted in January.

In a federal lawsuit, Blasingim alleges she was discriminated against because she was white and Hill, the county's first African-American sheriff, has said he wants an all-black department.

She claims, in the 42-page complaint filed on June 25, that she was also denied due process, that the sheriff attempted to obstruct justice by intimidating witnesses to a civil service case, and that the sheriff defamed her, distressed her and violated her rights.

The suit names Clayton County and the State of Georgia as co-defendants, and names Hill in both his private and public capacities. Blasingim is seeking lost pay, compensatory damages, punitive damages and "other and further relief as the Court may deem just and proper."

The lawsuit also outlines allegations of egregious misuses of money in the sheriff's office. According to the accountant, three days into Hill's term, he called her into his office and asked about expense accounts and discretionary funds. Blasingim expected to be asked to brief the newly elected sheriff about purchasing policies, but Hill, she said, seemed to only be interested in finding out where there was money he could use as he saw fit.

Blasingim reportedly said "the only thing even close" to a discretionary fund would be the "employee fund," which was money from the vending machines in the jail and was, under previous sheriffs, used for retirement parties or a Christmas dinner.

At the time Hill took office, there was about $8,339.47 in the vending machine account, according to the lawsuit.

According to Blasingim, Hill bought seven of his own vending machines, placing them in the jail, collecting "thousands of dollars weekly," spending it on "whatever Sheriff Hill wanted to spend it on." What it was spent on is, apparently, unaccounted for, but Blasingim alleges Hill spent the money faster than he made it.

"After a time," the lawsuit claims, "the vending machine receipts began to steadily decline, but the sheriff's purchases escalated.

"[Blasingim] advised Sheriff Hill that the account was out of money. Sheriff Hill asked why, and she told him that she had heard complaints that the machines were always empty and weren't making money the way they had before," the lawsuit claims. "The sheriff directed [Blasingim] to do 'whatever it takes' to see that this account made money."

As of the middle of January, according to the accountant, about $10,000 had been moved from the general fund to the vending machine fund and spent by Hill.

In his first eight months, Blasingim claims, Hill spent more than $40,000 from a drug-forfeiture fund, "without regard to restrictions."

The account "zeroed out of adjudicated funds by the end of August," according to the suit.

Some of the money was spent on art for Hill's office, according to the lawsuit. Blasingim implies the artwork -- African-American cowboys and "a lynch mob scene portraying Caucasian people with shotguns" -- had racist overtones that matched the sheriff's alleged employment policies.

Hill continued to spend money, even when there wasn't any left in the drug forfeiture fund or the vending machine fund, she alleged. Hill would, allegedly, make purchases or create debts and then tell Blasingim to sort out the finances.

He would, reportedly, tell her to "take it from drug money," "take it from the employee fund," or "take it from wherever it's legal and not up for scrutiny."

Blasingim said the sheriff repeated that order -- "Take it from wherever it's legal and not up for scrutiny" -- several times, even though she told him there was no such place, because everything in accounting was up for scrutiny.

"The sheriff continued to purchase items without regard to whether such expenses were authorized by procedure," the lawsuit claims. "[Blasingim] told Sheriff Hill that the department did not have money for certain expenses and that he could not use drug money for buying dinners, for buying constituents' lunch or for other personal uses."

Blasingim claims that when she and the legal advisor told the sheriff his spending was inappropriate, he would ask, "Can I go to jail?" When she told him she couldn't justify expenses, in case of an audit, he allegedly said he wasn't worried about an audit and she shouldn't be either -- she should just do what she was told.

Hill could not be reached for comment for this article. His lawyers have not yet responded to Blasingim's lawsuit.