At press time Wednesday, June 26, 2013, the criminal case against former Greene County Circuit Clerk, Etta Edwards had begun it first day of testimony. This report only covers the prosecution’s first witness. The defense had not begun it presentation.
Based on an audit conducted by the Alabama Department of Examiners of Public Accounts, Edwards was arrested in January, 2011 and subsequently indicted by a Grand Jury in connection with funds unaccounted for in the clerk’s office in the amount $138,120.72.
Prior to opening statements on Wednesday and before the jury entered the courtroom, Attorney Robert Turner, representing Etta Edwards, addressed presiding Circuit Judge Eddie Hardaway, stating that this case should be viewed as a civil case and should not be in criminal court. Turner further stated that the Attorney General’s office refused to pursue civil remedy because the appropriate investigation was not conducted.
Turner continued that the state has received funds from the bonding company. “The state has made assignments to Travelers Insurance Company in the amount of $36,000 and Risk Management came up with an additional $90,000,” he stated. He further explained that the state cannot claim ownership of the funds assigned to the insurance companies.
District Attorney Greg Griggers responded that he has no knowledge of the bond claims. That is an issue separate from the district attorney’s office. He pointed out the Etta Edwards was an employee of the state and she received the monies at issue on behalf of the state.
Turned stated that he wants to be able to enter documents of the bonds paid even if these are unsigned. Griggers said he had no objections to having the documents entered. Turner explained that the evidence will show that any money Etta Edwards received was lawful. “Now what happened to other funds beyond that was out of her control,” he stated.
In his instruction to the jurors, as they reentered the courtroom, Judge Hardaway asked if anything had happen since Monday, when this jury was selected, to influence their decision in any direction. The jurors’ responses were negative. Hardaway instructed the jurors not to discuss the Edwards’ case with anyone, including family, friends, neighbors, etc.
In his opening statements, District Attorney Greg Griggers introduced Isadore McGee, an Examiner of Public Accounts with the State of Alabama, who is the main witness for the state.
Griggers continued his statement: “There is nothing ordinary about this case. Etta Edwards is accused of stealing $138,120.72 from the Greene County Circuit Clerk’s office while she served as circuit clerk. This is not a complicated case. She took money paid to this office that she was not allowed to take.” he explained.
Griggers said that the state audit report through evidence presented by Isadore McGee will show that from April through June of 2009, $198,000 was taken in at the circuit clerk’s office and $138,120.72 is missing and Etta Edwards cannot explain this loss. “She has no explanation for how or why the funds were not there,” he said.
Griggers said that the records will show that bank deposits were made 2 to 3 months after funds were received in her office. “Deposit slips were prepared but never brought to the bank. These same deposit slips had sticky notes indicating how much needed to be deposited for a particular month. This is what she noted had to be made up,” according to the D.A.
Attorney Robert Turner addressed the jurors stating that the burden of proof is with the state.
He explained that the circuit clerk’s record keeping may not have been according to how a professional bookkeeper would have operated. “She had sloppy record keeping, but that in itself is not a crime. The state has to prove that the funds unaccounted for were actually stolen by Etta Edwards; that is the bottom line,” he stated.
Turner stated that Etta Edwards was not the only person in the office receipting funds that came into the office. Turner also said there is another issue of who owns those funds.
The state’s first witness, Isadore McGee, stated he has been an Examiner of Public Accounts with the State of Alabama for 27 years. He confirmed that he had been auditing since the process was done manually. McGee explained that the computerized system can now track receipts, deposits and disbursements on a daily basis. The system can reveal on a daily basis the exact amount received by the circuit clerk’s office and which court it was assigned to, such as criminal, civil, child support, etc. This system was in place in the Greene County Circuit Clerk’s office at the time of the audit in question.
McGee explained that at the end of a day monies received and prepared for deposit should be counted by two persons, placed in locked overnight bag (if after banking hours) and placed in a drop box at the bank. Only the clerk has the key to the bag, therefore the bank personnel cannot open the bag until the Clerk arrives with the key.
McGee said that in the audit period, he found that deposits prepared in April, May and June of 2009 were not deposited until June. He noted that $94,800 collected by end of May and deposited in June is basically what prompted further investigation and the more intensive cash count function. Some additional funds were found in the circuit clerk’s office at that time and credited to the Clerk’s report. However $138,120.72 is still unaccounted for.
According to the district attorney, the missing funds are in the jurisdiction of the criminal court division.
Attorney Robert Turner stated that as this trial continues, it will become evident that other personnel in the circuit clerk’s office had access to receipting and depositing of funds coming into that office.
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