Former Chatham County Probate Court Clerk Kim Birge on Wednesday was indicted on 39 counts including racketeering, theft by taking and violation of her oath as a public officer for alleged thefts from accounts in her office over a two-year-period.
The indictment returned by the Chatham County grand jury identified 18 individual who were alleged victims between Jan. 1, 2009, and June 30, 2011, and it is the first time Birge has been charged in a state court proceeding.
Birge, 64, is currently serving a six-year federal sentence imposed in 2015 for her guilty plea to stealing $223,000 from the Probate Court.
The new charges, obtained on evidence presented by Chatham County Assistant District Attorney Scott Robichaux, charged Birge with racketeering activity by obtaining interest in and control of real estate and personal property by improperly managing Probate Court funds and accounts by forging or altering documents related to disbursements and expenditures for her personal use.
It said her scheme grew from early racketeering involving stealing from existing accounts to “become more sophisticated and created dummy accounts into which she would initially deposit and then tqke the monies from these dummy accounts.”
The indictment charged the Birge “pleaded guilty in federal court to charges related to the dummy accounts,” but “has not faced any criminal charges related to the earlier activity of theft and fraud on individual existing accounts, disbursement, and expenditures.”
It then named Birge in separate theft by taking counts for each victim with sums of with a greater or less than value of $500, but did not give a total sum taken.
The indictment theft charged Birge with violating her oath by a public officer with the Probate Court in that she did swear to “well and faithfully discharge the duties of the Chief Clerk of Probate Court (of Chatham County) ... and I will receive only legal fees.”
The indictment stated the alleged illegal activity was unknown to the state until on or about Jan. 4 2017, and is thus excluded from the statute of limitations.
Wednesday’s action was the latest against Birge.
As recently as two weeks ago in Chatham County State Court, Birge agreed to provide half of her contested county retirement to 11 plaintiffs to settle a civil case.
At issue in the civil case were mental pain and suffering after the 11 victims learns the money was gone from Probate Court, punitive damages and attorneys’ fee in what plaintiff attorney Brent Savage contended was more than $409,000 that Birge took from his clients over at least a four-year period.
And Chatham County Director of Internal Audits Jeannie Alday testified that her expanded review of Probate Court ledgers and related records uncovered about 80 victims, not the 42 earlier identified, between 2009 and 2014.
Total thefts from the court totaled “right at $1 million” plus $190,000 involving another estate, she said.
In October 2015, Birge was sentenced in federal court to six years in prison and ordered to make restitution of more than $751,000 for her admissions to stealing $232,000 from Chatham County Probate Court.
She remains incarcerated in a West Virginia prison, but is expected to be released next year.
At her sentencing hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Scarlett Nokes told Moore that despite Birge’s battles with both drugs since 2008 and gambling excesses since 2003, she did not seek help until her crimes were discovered.
The case was in court because Birge victimized people who were trusting her to do her job, Nokes said.
Under the terms of her negotiated plea with the government, Birge pleaded guilty to count three of a five-count indictment, charging her with mail fraud and federal program fraud in the scheme the government said lasted between January 2011 and November 2011.
But under federal sentencing guidelines, probation officers can consider all alleged misconduct — including dismissed counts — in reaching their recommendations to the judge.
During Birge’s appearance in court, the judge said he found it a mystery that the 342 checks she had written to cash, 322 were checks for less than $3,000 and only 20 in excess of that number.
When Moore suggested that her conduct suggested she had a reason for the check sums, Birge responded, “I didn’t try to hide anything from anyone. ... Much of the time I didn’t know what I was doing.
“I can’t explain why I did what I did, and I’m sorry and I just pray for mercy.”
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