Photo by Curt Yeomans: Former Clayton County sheriff, Victor Hill (from left), and Steve Frey, one of his attorneys, sit in silence while they wait to find out if a Superior Court judge will allow bond for the former law enforcement official. Moments earlier, Hill found out a Clayton County Grand Jury had indicted him on 37 counts, including racketeering, theft by taking and violation of oath of office.
Former Clayton County sheriff, Victor Hill, was indicted, Wednesday, on 37 charges, including theft, racketeering, lying, influencing a witness, and violation of the oath of public office.
After signing off on the indictment in open court, Clayton County Superior Court Judge Matthew Simmons ordered that Hill be taken into custody. As Hill was led out of the courtroom, he told reporters he still plans to campaign for re-election.
"All I am going to say is I am still running for sheriff," he said.
Hill was booked into the Clayton County Jail, and immediately transported to another county jail. Sheriff Kem Kimbrough said Hill cannot be housed in Clayton’s jail because of security issues. For the same reason, Kimbrough did not want the county where Hill was being sent identified.
Simmons set a $50,000 bond, but as of about 6:30 p.m., Hill was still in custody. His next court appearance will be for arraignment in Clayton Superior Court.
His defense attorney, Musa Ghanayem, said the prosecution is politically motivated and Hill continues to generate support from the community.
"Even though a special prosecutor was brought in to present this to the grand jury, the indictment was handed down in Clayton County. It was investigated in Clayton County. It was written by this county's district attorney," said Ghanayem. "The air of impropriety is so thick, it's making me choke."
Ghanayem said Hill maintains his innocence.
"He's confident [he will beat the charges]," he said. "That's the best thing I can say right now."
Ghanayem said he will file an emergency bond motion to get the bond reduced.
The 51-page indictment details the charges against Hill that date back to 2007, but include allegations as recently as last summer. Special prosecutor Layla Zon, of the Alcovy Circuit, presented evidence that Hill ran the sheriff's office as an "enterprise" engaged in a pattern of racketeering activity.
The charges also confirm rumors that swirled around Hill during his stay in office, including that he repeatedly put an employee, Beatrice Powell, on paid administrative, or sick leave, so she could take personal vacations with him.
"He ordered that a sheriff's office employee be placed on paid administrative leave, so that she could travel with Victor Keith Hill on personal trips and still receive a salary," according to the indictments.
The indictments also allege that he illegally profited from his position as sheriff through various means. The charges tie Hill directly to the May indictment of his former spokesman, Jonathan Newton, and that he illegally profited from a kickback scheme involving the publication of "The Star," his newsletter.
"He illegally profited from his position as sheriff by allowing a sheriff's office employee to receive payment from Clayton County in the form of 'kickbacks,' from the company that printed a publication entitled, 'The Sheriff's Star,'" alleges the indictment.
The indictment charges Hill with multiple counts of theft by taking, for allegedly going on personal trips in the county's 2006 Dodge Charger, and 2003 Ford Excursion, to Helen, Ga., Florida, Alabama, South Carolina and Mississippi, using county fuel, or by using Clayton County funds to buy fuel out of town.
Hill is also accused of using campaign funds for his personal use. Specifically, Hill is charged with paying Naomi Nash $15,000 from his campaign account purportedly for her services as his campaign manager. Prosecutors allege that most of the money was returned to Hill after the funds were deposited, and then withdrawn from Nash's personal account. The indictment alleges that Hill took $22,000 in campaign funds from Aug. 14, 2008, to Nov. 17, 2008.
On June 6, the indictment alleges, Hill took a $2,000 contribution from Joon Co. Beauty Master-Morrow, and deposited it into his personal Bank of America account.
Rumors also alleged that Hill directed Newton to work on his biography while on the county payroll. That allegation is outlined in count 20: "He unlawfully [took] the services of Clayton County Sheriff's employee Jonathan Newton, the property of Clayton County, by directly and indirectly ordering Jonathan Newton, while said employee was on duty, and while said employee was being paid by Clayton County, to work on a book that Victor Keith Hill was writing."
Hill is also accused of ordering Newton to work on his campaign while on the county clock. The indictment alleges that Hill violated his oath of public office when he vowed to "take only my lawful fees."
Nash, 35, reportedly testified before the grand jury, giving evidence against him. Hill's indictment includes a charge he tried to influence Nash in September to not testify against him before a special grand jury.
"With the intent to deter Naomi Nash, a witness, from testifying freely, fully and truthfully to a matter pending in front of a Special Purpose Grand Jury of Clayton County, [Hill] did unlawfully offer and deliver services of an attorney and assistance with personal tasks as a benefit, reward and consideration" after Nash was locked up for her refusal to testify, the indictment charges.
Hill was elected the county's first black sheriff in 2004, but was defeated for a second term in 2008. He has already announced his intent to run for re-election this year, and claimed the grand jury investigation is politically motivated.
On his first day in office, Hill fired 27 deputies, posting armed snipers on the roof of the courthouse to counteract any perceived violence. The deputies sued and collected a multi-million-dollar settlement. They were also rehired.
Also in his first few days, Hill charged the brother of his predecessor, Stanley Tuggle, with harassing phone calls. Mark Tuggle reportedly called the sheriff's office at least twice to discuss the firings. Mark Tuggle reportedly called Hill "a short little [expletive]" in one message and "lowdown scum" in the second.
The Clayton County State Court Solicitor General dismissed the case seven months later. Mark Tuggle filed a civil suit against Hill in February 2006. A U.S. District Court jury held Hill responsible for false arrest, and ordered him to pay Mark Tuggle $475,000.
Tuggle's attorney, Bill Atkins, also sought more than $100,000 in attorneys fees. Nearly six years later, Atkins said neither he, nor his client, has seen a dime. Atkins said Hill is now getting what he deserves.
"It's been a long time coming," said Atkins. "In my 15-odd years of practicing law and handling civil rights matters, I have never encountered anyone less suited to protect and serve ordinary citizens than Victor Hill."
During Hill's four years in office, his relationship with Clayton County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell deteriorated. Hill considered Bell, a former Atlanta police chief, his mentor. After clashing with Bell over a variety of matters, Hill distanced himself from him and began referring to Bell as "Grandpa," ridiculing his advancing age.
The office of sheriff should operate with the "highest integrity possible," Bell said of the indictment. "The only comment I truly have to make is, we're in a situation where our public is at its highest need for public safety, and the sheriff plays a vital role in that," said Bell. "It is important now, and in the future, that office operates with the highest integrity possible, and if there is a matter that is to the go to the jury, then and only then, do we have the opportunity for the former sheriff to have his day, not in the media, but before the judicial system of our county, in which I have a great deal of confidence."
Bell added that he was saddened by the indictment and disappointed in Hill's actions that have cost the county’s taxpayers millions of dollars.
"I'm very highly disappointed, and I think its time that that matter be put to rest," he said. "I've known Victor Hill since he was a fledgling young detective in the police department. That has to have been about 10-plus years ago. I'm sad about it. I'm sad about this."
Kimbrough shared Bell's sentiments.
"Somewhere along the road, he lost himself and he lost perspective in terms of being in a law enforcement agency," said Kimbrough. "He operated the sheriff's office for his own gain, for personal and political ends. If anyone has exploited the sheriff's office, Victor Hill has."
Kimbrough said almost everyone was "shocked by the depth of his misconduct, the enormity of the allegations."
"This was not one simple act of malfeasance," he said. "The sheriff's office was run as a corrupt enterprise. I think vindication did occur today. The other part is sad, that because of the vindication of what the citizens of Clayton County had to endure. We've all heard about the stories of what was going on."
Hill's former spokesman, Newton, was indicted in May. Newton, 38, was arrested on a bench warrant while at his job as a Palmetto police officer. A secret grand jury returned a 12-count indictment outlining an alleged pattern of theft, and forgery, while Newton worked for the Clayton County Sheriff's Office under Hill.
Newton said, Wednesday, that he initially reported allegations against Hill in November 2008. "I am confident that the charges against Mr. Hill are as true now as they were when I initially blew the whistle in November 2008, by reporting the same allegations to the Sheriff's Office Administration, the Clayton County Police Department, and the GBI," said Newton.
“I applaud our district attorney for displaying integrity by allowing an outside agency to prosecute the case. Sheriff Kimbrough should have removed any appearance of impropriety by doing the same at the outset of the investigation. However, I am pleased to see justice being finally served."
–– Staff writer Curt Yeomans contributed to this article.