The five-count indictment includes four counts of mail fraud involving the $700,000 between January 2011 and November 2014 and a fifth count for federal program fraud alleging she stole about $767,218 between Jan. 1, 2014, and Dec. 31, 2014, involving a federal grant.
The count included the same funds and time frame as the mail fraud counts.
Included in the indictment is a forfeiture allegation in which the government says, if she’s convicted, they will try to recover “any property, real or personal” derived from the offense. That would include but not be limited to at least $767,218.
Birge, 61, is expected to appear before U.S. Magistrate Judge G.R. Smith within a few days for her initial court appearance.
Birge’s defense attorney, Thomas Withers, declined comment Monday.
The indictment charged that Birge in her capacity as chief clerk of Probate Court was authorized to conduct transactions in at least two court bank accounts, but “was not authorized to conduct transactions in the Probate Court bank accounts for the benefit of herself or her family.”
It charged that Birge, without authorization and with intent to defraud, would “use the mails to embezzle, steal, misappropriate and unlawfully convert more than $700,000 from the Chatham County Probate court.”
It charges she would sign court orders to direct insurance companies, private businesses, public employers, banks and other entities to send funds to the court “for the benefit of minors and other individuals who had conservatorships’ established in Chatham County.
A conservatorship establishes someone to watch out for money or property for minors or incompetents in the court.
Birge would then deposit fees paid to the court into one of the two bank accounts maintained by the court and make representations that the money would be used for court matters, the indictment charged.
She would then forge the signatures of conservators and/or their attorneys to create false documents to disburse the money, would use the cash from negotiated checks for her personal use and fail to disclose to others in the court her activities, the indictment charged.
Probate Judge Harris Lewis terminated Birge on Dec. 2 in what was described as “in the best interests” of the court.
He had placed Birge on investigative suspension without pay Nov. 20 during a probe of “discrepancies with the services that you are responsible for handling,” Lewis said in a Nov. 20 letter.
As part of Lewis’ initial action, Birge has been barred from entering the Montgomery Street courthouse or discussing any matters related to the investigation “with anyone other than investigatory staff, unless otherwise directed to do so.”
Birge has not returned to the courthouse since she left Nov. 20.
The action came in wake of a reported federal/Savannah-Chatham police probe of undisclosed activity.
Birge, who started with the court on July 19, 1982, had long been a stalwart in Probate Court, dating back to the administration of former Judge Robert Cook.
Full Article & Source:
Former Probate Court clerk Kim Birge indicted in theft of more than $700,000 from the court