After four years, the $3.2 million fraud case involving Camden County officials has been assigned a special prosecutor from the Georgia Attorney General’s Office.
Years went by with little movement after the director of Camden’s Public Service Authority and others were charged with misspending public funds to enrich themselves, buy classic cars, pay personal bills and divert money to friends’ businesses, according to police.
On April 12, the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia assigned the AG’s office to prosecute “beginning from investigation, arrest or Grand Jury proceedings, whichever comes first, until all appeals are exhausted,” the order states. The special prosecutor is Blair McGowan, according to Camden County Sheriff Jim Proctor.
This follows a pressure campaign from Sheriff Proctor and Camden’s Board of Commissioners as fears arose that the PSA case would evaporate after passing statutory limitations to prosecute.
The original prosecutor in the case was Jackie Johnson, whose indictment and election loss resulted in the case going to her successor. Keith Higgins became DA in 2021 but then he had to conflict out of the case because he represented one of the PSA defendants.
The case was then split between three district attorneys in three counties. A miscommunication between Camden County officials and the AG’s office last month resulted in more confusion about who would prosecute the case.
Camden officials learned that PAC had the authority to appoint a prosecutor, not the AG’s office. Soon PAC was contacted and promptly brought the case back to the AG.
Former PSA Director William Brunson, former Assistant Director Shawnta Jenkins, former county Chief Financial Officer Mike Fender, and his wife Caroline Fender were charged in several alleged PSA fraud schemes in 2019. A September 2018 audit revealed financial misreporting and misspending as early as 2006, in behavior that originated chiefly from Brunson.
Brunson and the Fenders did not return messages. Jenkins declined to comment when reached by phone.
Brunson, now 55, of Kingsland, ran the PSA, a public corporation controlled by the county meant to maintain fields, parks, pools and other recreational services for the county.
“William, who was the director, had unfettered, absolute power over the money. Nobody questioned it,” according to the case’s chief investigator, Chuck Byerly of the Camden County Sheriff’s Office.
The abuses started in the early 2000s with Brunson mainly writing checks to himself or to his second-in-command, Jenkins, and cashing them, according to Byerly. There would be real work orders associated with the checks – like mowing the lawns or cleaning the pools – but Brunson would write the checks for more money than was actually needed, cash them at a bank, pay the servicer in cash and pocket the rest, he said.
Brunson also spent close to $200,000 on PSA credit cards to pay for classic car parts (his hobby was fixing up classic cars), Ancestry.com, his power bills and other personal services, the audit stated. Brunson paid for gas to travel using PSA credit cards and also received mileage reimbursements for his travel, according to the audit.
Brunson diverted money to William Fender, the former county CFO, and his wife Caroline Fender, Byerly said. The Fenders ran a private school called the Advanced Learning Center in St. Mary’s and received $430,000 in so-called “grants” from Brunson’s PSA. The grants were not authorized or legal, according to Byerly.
The former PSA director also commingled sales tax dollars in different bank accounts, which is against Georgia law, according to the 2018 audit. He failed to pay $1.6 million in payroll taxes to the Internal Revenue Service, the audit also said.