Photo by Kathy Jefcoats
Former Clayton sheriff Victor Hill (left) still wears a sheriff’s star lapel pin despite no longer holding office and facing a 37-count indictment. He listens as his attorney, Steven Frey, talks about a gag order sought by prosecutors in the case against Hill.
Former Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill pleaded not guilty, Wednesday, to 37 criminal charges filed last month against him, but will have to wait a day or two to learn if a judge will muzzle him until the trial.
Superior Court Judge Albert Collier told defense attorneys Steve Frey and Musa Ghanayem, and special prosecutor Layla Zon, it will take some time to reach a decision on a gag order. Zon filed the gag-order motion last month, stating that overwhelming publicity could jeopardize Hill’s ability to get a fair trial.
Hill opposes the issuance of a gag order, as argued Wednesday by Ghanayem. “The state generated this publicity,” he told Collier. “We have the duty to reply to the accusations. I’d be ineffective if I didn’t.”
Ghanayem said Clayton County Sheriff Kem Kimbrough’s response to Hill’s indictment is reason enough for Hill to respond to each and every one of the 37 counts filed against him.
Hill, 47, took office as Clayton County’s first black sheriff in January 2005. He lost a bid for re-election in 2008 to Kimbrough. Since that loss, Hill has declared publicly he would run a third time. Kimbrough also is seeking re-election and told reporters in January he would use Hill’s indictment against him during this year’s campaign.
“Hill has the right to respond to every one of the counts in the indictment,” said Ghanayem. “If the sheriff is going to use the indictment to campaign against him, he has a right and a duty to reply to each one.”
But Zon argued the court has a duty to protect Hill’s Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial. “It’s become viral,” she said of the massive publicity since Hill’s indictment and arrest. “We want to use tax dollars wisely, so a trial is done only once.”
Zon was appointed to the case after Clayton District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson recused herself and her office from prosecution. Lawson said she was avoiding the appearance that politics was influencing the prosecution.
Collier asked the attorneys if they wanted a specially set trial date, and suggested the weeks of March 26, and April 16. However, a decision was not made Wednesday.
Beatrice Powell, who worked under Hill as a deputy, and was also his live-in girlfriend, was indicted the same day as Hill. She also pleaded not guilty, Wednesday. Zon told Collier the two defendants will not be prosecuted at the same time.
The charges against Hill follow allegations that swirled during his stay in office. It was alleged that he repeatedly put 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 Hill 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,’” the indictment says.
The indictment charges Hill with multiple counts of theft by taking for allegedly taking 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 while 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. But 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 he 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.
It was also alleges 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’s clock. Newton, 38, was indicted last year for his alleged role in the allegations. He attended Hill’s arraignment hearing, but did not address the court.