Ruth “The Truth” Stringer speaks during a DeKalb County sheriff candidates forum at Redan High School in Stone Mountain on Thursday, February 13, 2020. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

DeKalb sheriff candidate’s corruption comments raise eyebrows

A DeKalb County sheriff candidate’s recent comments alleging corruption within the office she hopes to lead are raising eyebrows — and questions — among her competitors.

That’s because Ruth Stringer is a 30-year employee of the sheriff’s office, and served as interim sheriff. She is one of nine candidates competing in the March 24 special election to fill the unexpired term of Sheriff Jeffrey Mann.

Early voting started Monday.

So did circulation of a video that features comments Stringer made during a February candidate forum.

“I’ve already had an opportunity to look at the books and see how the books were cooked, when I served as interim sheriff,” Stringer says in the video. “The first order of business for me is to deal with the contracts. I know exactly … who’s getting paid that shouldn’t be getting paid.

“I know exactly who to contact, which people submitted bids for contracts [who] didn’t get awarded the contracts because someone wanted a particular vendor to get the contract.”

Stringer’s opponents have pounced on the fact that she seemingly never reported the issues mentioned at the forum during her three decades at the sheriff’s office.

“As law enforcement officers, we take a pledge to up hold the law and to report crimes timely to the appropriate authorities,” candidate Ted Golden, a former DEA agent, wrote on Facebook.

Melody Maddox, who took over as DeKalb’s sheriff Dec. 1 and is competing in the special election, said it was troubling that Stringer retired as a major last year but hadn’t said anything until her campaign started.

“We in law enforcement urge the public to follow the mantra, ‘If you see something, say something,’” Maddox said in a statement provided by her campaign. “I urge all citizens, including Ms. Stringer, to do the same.”

Stringer told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that she stands behind what she said and what she did. Stringer said she “did refuse to sign certain things” during her employment at the sheriff’s office.

She said it all boiled down to the fact that the sheriff calls the shots on contracts. She wants to be sheriff so she can do it the right way.

“I was not the sheriff. I was not the chief deputy,” Stringer said. “It doesn’t matter at my level how much I screamed, ‘this is wrong you can’t do that.’ It was, ‘Stringer who cares, we’re gonna do it this way.’”

Allegations of corruption in DeKalb County are nothing new.

A litany of county officials and employees – from commissioners and CEOs to department heads – have been accused of wrongdoing over the years. A 2018 audit of the county’s procurement program found that it was at “high risk for waste, fraud, corruption, and abuse.”

Just Monday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced bribery and blackmail charges against a former supervisor in the tax commissioner’s office.

Kamal Ghali, a former federal prosecutor who works at the Atlanta law firm Bondurant Mixson and Elmore, said federal criminal laws don’t generally include a duty to report wrongdoing.

But, Ghali said, “I think whatever information she has would obviously be important to anybody investigating these types of issues. I don’t think that anyone would begrudge the fact that it’s coming out now.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office did not immediately respond to inquiries about Stringer’s statements.

Early voting in the DeKalb sheriff special election – and the corresponding presidential preference primary – continues through March 20.

In addition to Golden, Stringer and Maddox, the field includes: Geraldine Champion, a retired Atlanta police homicide detective; Harold Dennis, a former DeKalb deputy; Adam Gardner, a homicide investigator for the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office; Antonio “Block” Johnson, a military veteran and former jailer and marshal in Fulton County; Kyle Keith Jones, a retired law enforcement officer and businessman; and Carl Mobley, a retired DeKalb County police officer.

April 21 is the date for a runoff if no candidate captures more than 50% of the vote.

The winner of that election will only take over as sheriff until the end of the year, which marks the conclusion of the unexpired term of Sheriff Jeffrey Mann, who resigned amid a battle over his law enforcement certification.

The process of selecting DeKalb’s next full-term sheriff won’t begin until party primaries in May.

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