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Hill's former spokesman faces criminal charges

Newton

Newton

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

A Clayton County special grand jury has indicted the man who once served as former Sheriff Victor Hill's spokesman, for allegedly stealing $30,000 in county money, the county's district attorney confirmed late Friday.

Jonathan Y. Newton was indicted Friday on six counts of theft by taking, three counts of forgery and three counts of giving false statements, according to District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson.

She said Newton worked as the spokesman for the sheriff's office from 2007, until 2008, and the charges relate to some of his actions from that time period.

Newton, Lawson said, was forging billing statements for expenses incurred from the printing of "The Sheriff's Star," a newsletter Hill distributed when he was sheriff. The county was writing checks for amounts higher than the bills were actually worth, and Newton was allegedly pocketing the difference.

"He was forging invoices [for an amount higher than the actual bill] and getting paid the excess," Lawson said.

Clayton County Superior Court Judge Albert B. Collier set bail for Newton at $120,000, on Friday. Newton was arrested at his current job as a police officer for the City of Palmetto, according to Lawson.

She said the charges are all felonies, and Newton could be sentenced to up to 15 years on each theft by taking charge; up to 10 years on each forgery charge; and up to five years on each giving a false statement charge. That amounts to a possible 135 years in prison -- if Newton is convicted of all of the charges he is facing.

Officials with the Palmetto Police Department could not be reached for comment on Friday.

Lawson said Newton was altering billing invoices from the printing company that was printing "The Sheriff's Star." "He would go in and change the amount on the invoice, to a higher amount, and then, present the invoices to the sheriff's office accountant," the district attorney said.

She added that the sheriff's office would write checks out for the amount presented by Newton, and he would allegedly pocket the difference after he took the checks to the printing company.

Lawson said the evidence presented to the grand jury on Friday included testimony from a current sheriff's office deputy.

While Newton worked as Hill's spokesman in the sheriff's office, he also owned, and edited The Clayton County Progress, a short-lived newspaper aimed at the county's African-American community.

Hill was defeated in his 2008 re-election bid by current Sheriff Kem Kimbrough. Although the actions that led to Newton's indictment this week actually happened several years ago, the indictment could come as a blow to Hill, who is currently campaigning to return to the sheriff's office next year.

In a written statement, Hill said he was "glad that justice is finally being served" and that it was "disheartening to learn that an employee I entrusted with a great task, would use this responsibility to steal."

The former sheriff claimed he found out about Newton's alleged actions, and had him investigated while he was still in office.

"It was my administration that discovered that he was taking money and conducted the initial investigation," said Hill in his written statement. "The case was presented twice to separate judges in Clayton and Cobb counties, [and] at that time, neither judge signed the warrants."

Hill continued, saying, "My focus is strictly on returning to the sheriff's office to fight the crime that is spiraling out of control, and this will continue to be my sole objective."