Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren is the subject of several subpoenas from the state ethics commission. Christina Matacotta/Christina.Matacotta@ajc.com
Photo: Christina R. Matacotta
Photo: Christina R. Matacotta

Cobb Sheriff fights subpoenas from state ethics commission

Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren is fighting a slew of subpoenas from the Georgia ethics commission aimed at his campaign finances and the operations of his office, according to legal filings.

The subpoenas were sent to the Committee to Re-Elect Sheriff Neil Warren, the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office, Cobb County’s Finance Department, CenterState Bank and the Cobb Youth Museum.

The subpoena to CenterState Bank, the entity with which Warren’s campaign holds accounts, asks for banking records from 2015 to present. The Cobb Youth Museum is a non-profit organization that partners with Warren’s campaign during the annual Corn Boilin’ fundraising event, but it is unclear what information that subpoena seeks.

Richard Hyde, a former investigator for two attorneys general who is not involved in the case, said the subpoenas to the Sheriff’s Office and the county finance department suggest public funds may be a focus of the probe, in addition to campaign money.

Warren has denied wrongdoing and is seeking to quash the subpoenas.

In July, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on apparent irregularities in the sheriff’s campaign accounting, including thousands of dollars in unattributed cash and questionable payments to his senior staff and their relatives.

The campaign also refused to answer questions about how Corn Boilin’ money was divided between Warren and the youth museum. The event attracts hundreds of people, including conservative powerbrokers like Gov. Brian Kemp, who gave a speech this year.

The subpoenas follow a formal complaint issued by the ethics commission alleging Warren has improperly utilized nearly $20,000 in campaign funds since 2015. Many of the expenditures were for groceries, membership dues and petty cash used on undisclosed purchases. Some of the expenditures in the complaint aligned with those highlighted by the AJC’s reporting.

“The sheriff denies the allegations that are in the complaint,” said Douglas Chalmers Jr., Warren’s personal attorney. He called the complaint “a mess” and accused the commission of failing to follow proper investigative procedure, an argument he echoed in legal filings intended to block the subpoenas.

The commission said in a statement it does not comment on pending litigation. A hearing before the commission has been scheduled for December 4 at 10 a.m. A separate hearing in Cobb County Superior Court over Warren’s attempt to quash the subpoena to his campaign’s bank has not been scheduled.

Hyde said he is skeptical of Warren’s argument that the commission lacked the legal justification to issue the subpoenas, and questioned why the sheriff wouldn’t just hand over the documents.

“From the outside, it could look as if there is something to hide,” said Hyde. “That doesn’t give the public much confidence.”

Cobb County Spokesman Ross Cavitt confirmed that the finance department had already complied with the subpoena, and the county attorney’s office was not representing the Sheriff’s Office in this matter.

Cobb County Sheriff’s Office spokesmen Glenn Daniel and Robert Quigley did not respond to questions about whether the Sheriff’s Office had complied, or intended to comply.

Neither the Cobb Youth Museum nor CenterState Bank could be reached for comment.

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