By Joe Johnson
A former director of the Oconee County Department of Human Resources who admitted to stealing over $118,000 in taxpayer money in a complex paycheck scheme, has been sentenced to prison for her crime and will have to pay restitution, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia Charles Peeler announced Wednesday.
Sherry Turner-Seila, 52, a former Watkinsville resident who moved to Florida, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge C. Ashley Royal to two years in prison after having pleaded guilty in August to one count of aggravated identity theft, according to Peeler. Additionally, he said that the judge ordered Turner-Seila to pay $118,451.80 in restitution to Oconee County.
Turner-Seila was suspended and resigned the same day in July 2019 after an audit revealed a discrepancy in payroll accounts at the office located in the Oconee County Courthouse on Main Street in Watkinsville, according to a statement from the Oconee County Board of Commissioners.
A criminal investigation begun by the sheriff’s office and later by the FBI discovered money had periodically been electronically removed from the county coffers since about July 2016.
“Turner-Selia is paying a serious penalty for abusing the public’s trust by stealing taxpayer money,” Peeler said in a media release. “Investigating and prosecuting public corruption is a top priority for the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Public officials found abusing their power will be held accountable.”
The former HR director was one of the few employees with access to the county’s payroll system, which transferred funds directly from the county bank account to the bank accounts of county employees. Peeler said. From July 6, 2016 to July 5, 2019, she concocted a scheme where she would use that access to temporarily change a former employee’s direct deposit information to her own personal bank account’s direct deposit information, Peeler said.
In all, the woman stole $118,451.80, the federal proscutor said.
Chris Hacker, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Atlanta office, said in a statement that “Turner-Seila's choice to abuse her position of trust not only hurt taxpayers and co-workers, it eroded the public's trust in government. Now she must pay a serious penalty, which hopefully sends a message to the public that her actions will not be tolerated or go unpunished."
After completing her prison sentence, Turner- Seila will have to spend one year on supervised release. There is no parole in the federal criminal justice system.