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Suspended Augusta commissioner convicted of destroying records, lying to federal investigators

federal court Augusta

Suspended Augusta District 4 Commissioner Sammie Lee Sias was convicted Friday of destroying records, including those related to the expenditure of public money, and then lying about it to federal investigators.

Suspended Augusta District 4 Commissioner Sammie Lee Sias was convicted Friday, July 29 of destroying records, including those related to the expenditure of public money, and then lying about it to federal investigators.

A U.S. District Court jury found Sias of Hephzibah, Georgia, guilty of destruction, alteration, or falsification of records in federal investigations; and false statement or representation made to a department or agency of the United States, according to David H. Estes, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia.

The July 29 verdict came down after a 4-day trial and just two hours of deliberation by the jury.

“Former Commissioner Sias knew his handling of sales tax funds was under investigation, and he deleted thousands of electronic files within hours of a federal order requiring him to provide those files,” said U.S. Attorney David H. Estes. “This verdict demonstrates that no one is above the law, and that there is a penalty for obstructing investigators working to find the truth.”

Sias, elected in 2015, had been under investigation by the FBI and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation for his role in the expenditure of Richmond County Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) funds.

An FBI agent eventually served Sias and the private organization Sandridge Community Association (SCA) with federal subpoenas in July and August of 2019, according to a July 29, 2022, news release from the office of U.S. Attorney Estes.

The subpoenas had requested records pertaining to the SCA (which, at the time, Sias had served as its president); and the Jamestown Community Center, owned by Richmond County but run by Sias’ organization.

The subpoenas also had requested records for Jamestown SPLOST, the SCA Board of Directors and the SCA Summer Camp.

According the release, the FBI “testified that within hours of the agent’s visit, Sias deleted approximately 7,000 relevant files from a laptop computer in his possession that belonged to the Jamestown Community Center.”

Those files included “invoices, spreadsheets, work orders, payments, agendas, minutes, financial reports and other documentation” related to the community center, according to the indictment, which had alleged Sias knowingly destroyed or altered these records “with the intent to impede, obstruct, and influence the investigation and proper administration of a federal criminal grand jury investigation.”

Further, in a recorded interview with an FBI agent four days after that initial visit, “Sias lied when he told the agent that he had provided all files in his possession related to the investigation,” according to the recent release, which says that digital forensics experts later found evidence of the missing files on Sias’ laptop.

Sias is currently free on bond, pending sentencing. No date has yet been set for sentencing; according to the release, an investigation by U.S. Probation Service must first occur.

Sias faces a maximum of 20 years in federal prison, “substantial” financial penalties and up to five years supervised release. The federal system offers no chance of parole.

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