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Ga. sheriff used public office, children's charity to aid campaign

Meris Lutz, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on

Published in News & Features

ATLANTA -- The email, sent from a Cobb County, Ga., sheriff's employee to the district attorney's office, sought volunteers for the sheriff's annual Corn Boilin' event to raise money for the Cobb County Youth Museum.

"This is a great opportunity to meet tons of folks and it is for a great cause!" it read.

The great cause was, in fact, Sheriff Neil Warren himself.

Emails, interviews and campaign finance records show Warren used the children's charity to solicit volunteers and donations for a fundraiser that brought in thousands of dollars for his reelection effort, while neither he nor his campaign contributed anything directly to the nonprofit museum.

Some of those volunteers and donors said they were unaware of the political nature of the event.

Much of the organizing for the Corn Boilin' was done by public employees working out of the Sheriff's Office on county time, emails show. Documents also raise questions about the use of in-house services from the jail kitchen for food preparation and inmate labor for cleanup after the fundraiser.

 

Warren's campaign finances are currently under investigation by the state ethics commission. Subpoenas issued in the case strongly suggest the agency is looking at potential misuse of county resources.

David Emadi, executive director of the commission, said the investigation limits his ability to comment substantively on details of the case.

"That being said, the Commission is aware of the issues and questions raised by the AJC, and I am optimistic that our investigation will be concluded with a final resolution at our next Commission meeting in the Spring," Emadi wrote in an email.

Doug Chalmers, an attorney representing Warren's campaign, said his client is cooperating with the state's investigation and has asked ethics staff to "provide training for the Sheriff's Office and the county staff to help ensure a clear understanding of what activities are permitted given the hybrid nature of this event."

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