Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren’s office has received a subpoena by the state ethics commission looking into his campaign fundraising. The ethics commission has also subpoenaed the county finance office, the bank in which Warren’s campaign holds accounts and the Cobb Youth Museum, a non-profit organization that partners on one of Warren’s largest annual fundraising events. Christina Matacotta/Christina.Matacotta@ajc.com
Photo: Christina R. Matacotta
Photo: Christina R. Matacotta

Probe of Cobb sheriff’s campaign seeks county reimbursement records

State investigators appear to be examining whether Cobb Sheriff Neil Warren used county resources to boost his own re-election efforts, according to subpoenas obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The subpoenas issued to the Sheriff’s Office and the Cobb Finance Department seek records related to reimbursements from the county to the sheriff and his staff, as well as sheriff employee schedules for the month of July going back several years.

The time period in question coincides with the sheriff’s annual Corn Boilin’ campaign fundraiser.

“It appears to me that they’re wanting to verify the use of county resources related to the sheriff’s campaign activities,” said Bryan Tyson, an attorney who specializes in campaign finance and reviewed the subpoenas to the county. “I wouldn’t consider it to be that unusual that the commission is looking into this. It is its job to police the boundaries of campaign finance.”

Subpoenas have also been sent to Warren’s re-election campaign committee, the bank where the committee holds accounts, and the Cobb Youth Museum, which partners with the sheriff on the Corn Boilin’ and is a co-beneficiary of the fundraiser.

Warren has denied wrongdoing and filed motions to quash all five subpoenas. He did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment submitted to his personal attorney, Douglas Chalmers, Jr.

David Emadi, the director of the Georgia Government Transparency & Campaign Finance Commission, declined to answer specific questions about his agency’s investigation into Warren. He confirmed, however, that neither the Sheriff’s Office nor the campaign have complied with the subpoenas that were issued to them.

“It is standard practice for the Commission to issue subpoenas in all cases where violations of the Campaign Finance Act have been discovered by staff,” Emadi wrote in an email. “The Commission began utilizing its subpoena authority in July of 2014, so this is not a new or unusual practice.”

The Oct. 3 subpoena sent to the county finance department seeks the following: Any and all requests for reimbursement submitted by Warren or any member of his staff since 2014; any and all records of reimbursement paid to Warren or any member of his staff in that time; records of county policy and procedure related to the reimbursement of expenses for attending social activities or community events, including Chamber of Commerce functions; and records of acknowledgement of such policies by Warren or his staff.

READ THE SUBPOENA

The subpoena sent to the Sheriff’s Office on the same date asks for any and all records, including time logs, employee sign-in sheets, work schedules “and any other related documents pertaining to Cobb County Sheriff’s Office employees” for the month of July in the years 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019.

READ THE SUBPOENA

County Spokesman Ross Cavitt said the finance department has already complied with the subpoena.

Cavitt had previously said the county attorney’s office was not representing the Sheriff’s Office in this matter. On Tuesday, he clarified that the county attorney has not taken any action on behalf of the Sheriff’s Office yet, but that the county would represent the Sheriff’s Office in any potential litigation.

“Neil Warren has hired an attorney to personally represent him in this matter,” Cavitt wrote in an email. “We are aware that attorney has filed a motion to quash subpoenas issued in this matter and are awaiting the outcome of that ruling.”

An AJC investigation earlier this year found a blurred line between Sheriff Warren’s re-election campaign and his public office.

A number of his employees were paid or reimbursed for work on their boss’ campaign, sometimes without clear justification, according to a review of campaign finance disclosures. Warren’s campaign, the Sheriff’s Office and the Youth Museum provided contradictory answers about who collected and processed the money raised by the Corn Boilin’.

Neither CenterState Bank nor The Cobb Youth Museum have responded to requests for comment on the subpoenas.

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