Five felony charges against former Clayton sheriff dismissed

A Superior Court judge has dropped theft and racketeering charges against former Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill, reducing the number of criminal counts Hill is facing to 32.

Hill, who is set to go to trial Nov. 26, is under criminal indictment on charges that he enriched himself with sheriff’s department resources and money donated to his failed 2008 re-election campaign.

The outside prosecutor handling the case, Layla Zon, the prosecutor in Walton and Newton counties, could not be reached for comment Friday.

One of Hill’s attorneys, Drew Findling, considers the dropped charges a victory in Hill’s fight to get all of the charges dismissed.

“This was a tremendous blow to the prosecution,” Findling said.

Zon’s options include appealing Judge Albert Collier’s decision, re-indicting Hill on other charges regarding his use of campaign money or proceeding with the counts that remain.

Hill, who won a tough Democratic primary this summer, could become Clayton County sheriff again if he survives election day against a write-in challenger.

He became the party’s nominee despite being charged in January with 37 felonies, including four counts of racketeering, theft by taking, making a false statement, violating his oath of office and influencing a witness. Combined, the charges potentially could bring hundreds of years in prison.

The indictment alleges Hill used county-issued cars and credit cards for vacations and weekend getaways, gave an employee paid sick leave so she could accompany him out of town and put the sheriff’s staff to work on his re-election campaign during the hours they were supposed to be doing county business.

Hill also was accused of moving money from his campaign into accounts of businesses he owned or to a friend and then to himself. Charges related to the movement of money were the ones Collier dismissed.

Late Thursday, Collier dismissed two racketeering counts and three theft-by-taking charges because, he wrote, it was unclear who actually “owned” the campaign money. The theft-by-taking charges were the basis for the two racketeering counts.

“Georgia statutes do not establish the ownership of those funds,” Collier wrote.

The indictment accuses Hill of depositing $24,000 in checks to the Committee to Reelect Victor Hill Sheriff and eventually diverting the money to him.

Misuse of campaign funds is a misdemeanor, the judge noted; the two-year statue of limitations on that crime has passed. A racketeering charge requires at least two felony charges as a basis.

Findling said the judge’s ruling is evidence the prosecution’s case is weak.

“The investigation in this case really bothered me,” Findling said. “Victor Hill announced his candidacy and in 30 days an investigation opens up against him.”

Hill, a former homicide detective and legislator, has insisted the indictment was brought to keep him from becoming sheriff again.

Hill’s four years as sheriff were peppered with controversy. On his first day he fired 27 people and had them escorted out of the building with snipers on the roof. He fought with other law-enforcement agencies as well as the county commissioners over who was responsible for enforcing the law. Taxpayers spent hundreds of thousands of dollars when several employees sued, including the 27 he fired and was later ordered to reinstate.

If convicted, Hill would be prohibited from taking the office on Jan. 1. And if he is acquitted, Hill will still have to persuade the Peace Officers Standards and Training Council to reinstate his suspended state law enforcement certification.

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