Thursday, May 4, 2023

Sign in front of Camden County’s Public Service Authority building Credit: Jake Shore/The Current

Embezzlement case advances

A $3.2 million fraud case involving Camden County officials cleared a major hurdle last month: getting a prosecutor to take the case.

On April 12, state officials assigned the Georgia Attorney General’s Office to prosecute, and a special prosecutor was appointed.

The fraud case has been beset by a four year delay since the arrests of Camden’s Public Service Authority former director, a former employee, and the county’s former chief financial officer and his wife. They were accused of spending money meant for the PSA — a public corporation that is controlled by the county and oversees recreation — to buy classic cars, pay off personal bills and fund a private school.

The Current‘s Jake Shore reviews the evidence so far in the PSA case and reports on why it took so long to get a special prosecutor.

Atlantic Judicial Circuit Chief Public Defender Brandon Clark makes budget request to Liberty County commissioners on May 2, 2023. Credit: Jake Shore/The Current

More funding for public defenders

With counties deciding on priorities for next year’s budget, two Coastal Georgia public defenders’ offices are requesting more funds to keep up staffing.

On Tuesday night, Atlantic Judicial Circuit Chief Public Defender Brandon Clark went in front of Liberty County commissioners requesting $65,000, as part of a roughly $171,000 circuit-wide increase, for competitive benefits for his public defenders.

“I’m trying to make sure I don’t lose anybody to Chatham County or any of the other circuits, frankly,” Clark said. He said Fulton County offers a starting salary of $100,000 to new public defenders and neighboring counties try to match those salaries. That trickles down to more rural counties like Liberty, he said.

Glynn County’s public defender’s office is also going before county commissioners on Thursday to request a funding increase of about $127,000, most of which would go to staffing.

Public defenders’ offices across the country are understaffed and underfunded. Public defenders themselves have notoriously high caseloads, which can affect how well they serve clients too poor to afford lawyers.

“Overloaded lawyers lack the time to conduct investigations, review discovery materials, perform legal research and file motions, communicate with clients, and prepare for court,” according to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Savannah-area trafficking stats

Chatham County’s rank jumped up to 4th in the state for most sex trafficking cases involving minors this year, from 7th last year.

That’s according to Tharros Place, a 12-bed shelter coming to the Savannah area to serve human trafficking victims in the county. The organization hosted a virtual education session Wednesday to inform tourism industry stakeholders about how human trafficking can filter into their industry.

Laura Weatherly, court specialist with Chatham County Juvenile Court, cleared up that human trafficking does not involve popular misconceptions, like victims locked in shipping containers coming to the port and targeted kidnappings based upon secret codes hidden in plain sight.

“A lot of my youth on my caseload go willingly, then stay for a little bit, then realize they’re in a really troubled situation,” Weatherly said. “Acceptance into the trafficking world is nine times out of 10 mostly on the child’s own, will. They’re not forced. It’s kind of that coercion a little bit. But I don’t see a lot of force.”

Weatherly stressed that while kidnapping is not happening as much physically, children affected by human trafficking are being mentally and emotionally kidnapped. Children are unable to provide consent to their trafficking, she said.

Factors like poverty, mental health and LGBTQ identity, prior abuse are large causes of children entering into trafficking, according to Tharros Place. The nearby interstate is a big reason for Savannah’s high number of cases because the travel thoroughfare and highway motels allow for anonymous stops to solicit sex, according to Weatherly.

The most effective ways to prevent human trafficking in Chatham County are:

  • Be vigilant online: Social media is the main way Chatham County children are being recruited for sex trafficking, according to Weatherly. Keep tabs on your child’s phone use and/or whom they communicate with. “It’s so easy (for traffickers) to contact children.”
  • Be aware of human trafficking signs: Youth with physical injuries, appearing to be malnourished, checking into hotels with older-looking men, tattoos or “branding,” or a sudden change in appearance are all indicators of trafficking.
  • Be a trusted adult: Try to be someone who your children or other children can go to for support and who will learn and listen. “A lot of these children who we’re seeing in our community being trafficked, they feel like they didn’t have someone in their corner.”

Clarification: The newsletter has been updated to reflect the correct title for Laura Weatherly of Chatham County Juvenile Court. It’s also been updated to clarify how children cannot provide consent to trafficking.

Have a question, comment or story idea? Email me at

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Jake Shore covers public safety and the courts system in Savannah and Coastal Georgia. He is also a Report for America corps member. Email him at Prior to joining The Current,...