Grovetown councilman found guilty of bribery
A federal jury convicted a Grovetown city councilman of bribery charges Thursday.
The jury convicted Leland J. “Sonny” McDowell of two counts of bribery after a three-day trial in Montgomery, Ala., according to U.S. Attorney Clark Morris, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office Middle Alabama District.
“We are just shell-shocked,” McDowell said. “This is not what anyone expected up until the moment of the verdict.”
Testimony ended Wednesday and the jury deliberated several hours Thursday before reaching the verdict.
McDowell said he plans to return home to Grovetown Monday and resign from Grovetown city council. He can’t serve after being convicted of a felony.
“He’ll have to resign and we’ll have to fill his seat until November when the election comes up,” Mayor George James said.
McDowell was elected to Grovetown City Council in 2009, and his term runs through the end of this year. The Grovetown city council re-elected McDowell in January as the city’s mayor pro tempore.
Because there is less than a year left of his four-year term, city officials can appoint a replacement instead of holding a special election, James said.
McDowell, who pled not guilty to the charges June 15, was accused of offering a kickback to a former Alabama Department of Public Safety employee in 2007.
McDowell and James E. Potts, of Montgomery, Ala., faced a four-count indictment alleging bribery related to a program receiving federal funds.
Potts pled guilty to bribery as part of a negotiated plea agreement Monday and testified against McDowell, Morris said.
Part of Potts’ public safety job in July 2007 was helping the Alabama Department of Human Resources solicit bids for an electronic fingerprint system. At that time, McDowell owned Southern Detention Technologies, which sold fingerprint machines. He is now the owner of Grayco Detention Equipment.
McDowell said he sold the department a machine to be used for fingerprint-based background checks on people who were going to work with children, the elderly and otherwise vulnerable people.
The federal grand jury’s June indictment accused him of offering, and Potts accepting, a $1,700 check and $1 for every fingerprint scan related to the DHR, according to the statement.
McDowell faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each charge, Morris said. McDowell said he was released on his previous bond and was told to expect a sentencing hearing to be scheduled in about 90 days.
Ex-4H staffer charged with molestation
An Augusta woman who worked with students in Columbia County’s 4H program was charged with molestation of a 15-year-old girl.
Jennifer Gayle Davenport, 26, of the 1300 block of Baker Avenue in Augusta, is charged with aggravated child molestation and aggravated sexual battery. She was being held without bond at the Columbia County Detention Center pending an expected Friday bond hearing.
A Martinez woman told Columbia County Sheriff’s Office investigators that she discovered Davenport “had been involved in a sexual relationship” with her 15-year-old daughter, according to an incident report.
Davenport was employed by Career Services, Columbia County’s temporary services contractor, said Columbia County Administrator Scott Johnson. She performed hourly work for about a year as a program assistant for 4H with the Columbia County Extension Service, said Shirley Williamson, the county coordinator for 4H.
Williamson said Davenport quit work with the 4H about three weeks before her arrest.
Sheriff’s Capt. Steve Morris said the incidents took place at the 15-year-old’s home.
The following accounts were taken from reports from the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office:
Sidewalk skateboarder arrested
An Evans man skateboarding in front of an Evans business was arrested Monday for not cooperating with a deputy.
Leighton Stringfellow, 20, was charged with disorderly conduct and was released from the Columbia County Detention Center after posting a $500 bond, according to jailers.
The owner of Carefree Pools and Spas called authorities Monday afternoon because he said Stringfellow was skateboarding on the sidewalk outside the business at 4467 Washington Road in Evans. The owner said there are numerous signs stating skateboards aren’t allowed on the sidewalk so he asked Stringfellow not to skateboard there. He said Stringfellow cursed at him and left, but returned to skateboard a short time later.
The deputy found Stringfellow sitting on his skateboard in the parking lot of Walmart. Stringfellow admitted he was skateboarding in front of the business and called the owner a name. The deputy asked him not to use vulgar language and to provide his identification. Stringfellow said he didn’t have his ID and that he wouldn’t provide it even if he did.
When the deputy said he was writing a report about the trespassing, Stringfellow said he didn’t want his name in the Columbia County computer system and again refused to tell the deputy his name and birthday. He said, “I am familiar with the law and I do not have to provide you with any information.”
The deputy handcuffed Stringfellow, who then identified himself. He was warned about the criminal trespass.
Woman’s card used for online purchases
An Evans woman said Tuesday that someone spent more than $9,000 with her credit card.
The 56-year-old woman said she received 14 emails thanking her for placing recent orders. She discovered her card was used to buy more than $9,000 worth of camera products and iPhones.
The woman said she doesn’t know anyone who lives at the St. Helena Island, S.C., shipping address for the items.
18-carat diamond ring missing
A Martinez woman called authorities Tuesday after discovering her 18-carat diamond ring missing.
The 47-year-old woman said the ring went missing from a cabinet in her bedroom closet between March 26 and Tuesday. She normally keeps that closet locked, but accidentally left the door unlocked when she recently had people doing work inside her home.