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Settlement in Grovetown class action lawsuit finalized

Posted: July 3, 2017 - 7:59pm

A settlement from the city of Grovetown in a class action lawsuit, in which two residents claimed water utility fees were adjusted to cover up alleged embezzlement by a city employee at the center of a federal investigation, was finalized by a judge during a fairness hearing last week.

Council, representing the residents in the lawsuit, explained to Columbia County Superior Court Judge Michael N. Annis that settlement administrators Kurtzman Carson Consultants out of California had been contracted to distribute the $1.5 million settlement among the more than 8,000 residents affected.

During the hearing, attorneys Jeff Peil and Charles Huggins explained the process of notifying all affected residents and that none that were notified had decided to opt out of the settlement.

As of the hearing, more than 1,000 residents involved had submitted claims to KCC, and that number was expected to increase, according to Huggins, who stated that KCC expected some 19 percent of affected residents to make claims. Peil said that any unclaimed money from the settlement, would be returned to the city of Grovetown.

One amendment was made to the final settlement, according to Grovetown's city attorney Chris Dube.

Due to stipulations of the settlement, the city was no longer allowed to accept cash payments from residents to pay their water utility bill. According to Dube, restricting the cash option had caused a hardship for what he said was a majority of the Grovetown population.

Dube said the amended settlement puts a one-year sunset on that particular stipulation and cash payments will be allowed to resume, effective June 1, 2018.

Other stipulations set forth in the settlement mandated that the city pay $750,000 up front and continue payments of $62,500 per month for the remainder of 2017, to finalize the $1.5 million agreed to be repaid to affected parties.

The settlement was proposed in January by the city of Grovetown, after Dube replaced the city's longtime attorney Brendan Fleming.

The city is currently awaiting the conclusion of a federal investigation launched in March 2016 by the Treasury Department into a suspected embezzlement scheme by former city clerk Vicky Capetillo. According to previous Columbia County News-Times reports, Grovetown Mayor Gary Jones said the evidence brought to light in that ongoing investigation, would have made it impossible for the city to argue the claims brought forth in the class action lawsuit.

The settlement is one of several cases Grovetown was involved in that have been either dismissed without prejudice or concluded since Fleming's ouster by unanimous approval in January.

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