In the months leading up to the murder of 11-year-old Levi Frady, the Forsyth County Drug Task Force came under fire when two of its officers were investigated for mishandling seized drugs and nearly $33,000 of drug money. One of the officers was sued for sexually abusing multiple Forsyth County citizens.
First, in February 1997, — eight months before Levi was murdered — the former head of the Forsyth/Pickens/Jasper Drug Task Force, Capt. David “Boomer” Bennett, turned in nearly $5,000 of seized drug money to the Pickens County sheriff, according to a March 28, 1997 report in the Forsyth County News.
It was an odd move for Bennett because he was fired from his job with the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office more than a month earlier. He was terminated as part of a management change when Sheriff Denny Hendrix took office on Jan. 1, 1997.
Bennett served as commander of the multi-county drug task force from 1991 – 95, under then Sheriff Jerry Padgett, until it was dissolved in 1995 when federal funds were cut.
The money in question came from five separate cases involving the drug task force, according to the March 28 repor. Bennett turned over $4,922.70 to the Pickens Sheriff Billy Wofford on Feb. 4, 1997.
“I informed (Forsyth) Sheriff Hendrix because I didn’t know where it was supposed to go,” Wofford told the reporter. He was unaware of where the money had been or why it was being turned in at the time.
Criminal investigators and internal affairs personnel are looking into all state and federal money that was passed through the (drug) task force, according to the March 28, 1997 Forsyth County News Report.
In a termination letter penned by Hendrix to Bennett, he stated, “Any sheriff’s office or county equipment or property retained in your possession or held by others on your behalf after the effective time of your termination will be deemed to have been criminally converted.”
Bennett turned in the money 34 days after he was fired, therefore, it would have been considered ‘criminally converted’. Yet, no charges were brought against him.
FOUR MONTHS BEFORE LEVI WAS MURDERED, $28,000 IN DRUG TASK FORCE MONEY GOES MISSING
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation then joined Hendrix’s investigation into Bennett’s activities along with Pickens County District Attorney Roger Queen and Sheriff Wofford, according to a July 4, 1997 report in the Forsyth County News.
GBI at some point provided Forsyth Internal Affairs Investigator Leevan Kirk with a “full investigative jacket.”
Hendrix told the newspaper there were still questions about missing money, drugs and other evidence, and there appears to have been no accounting system in place.
“We have no idea exactly what should be here,” Hendrix said. “The records are a mess.”
The Forsyth County News reported that the accounting firm of Raburn, Haynes & Associates calculated nearly $28,000 in drug task force drug money was missing from Forsyth County and recommended that an extensive investigation be done, including whether all jurisdictions involved in the task force have turned in all monies.
Nearly $28,000 in drug task force drug was missing
ONE MONTH BEFORE LEVI FRADY WAS MURDERED, DRUG TASK FORCE OFFICER RESIGNS
In September 1997, Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Anthony Lynn Payne was suspended without pay after two juveniles were arrested by Cumming police officers with drugs allegedly found on Payne’s property, according to a Sept. 19, 1997 report in the Forsyth County News.
Payne was a member of the defunct multi-county drug task force under Bennett.
Forsyth Maj. Ronald Casper led the investigation into Payne’s actions. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation brought in Special Agent Mike Eason to investigate the juveniles.
It is unclear why GBI did not investigate Payne but rather focused exclusively on the juveniles.
Eason would not comment on any ties Payne had with the juveniles, according to the Forsyth County News report.
The drugs were reportedly evidence leftover from the defunct multi-jurisdictional task force, according to the Forsyth County News report. Marijuana and a small quantity of powder, were never destroyed by Payne or other task force personnel.
The drugs … were never destroyed by Payne or other task force personnel.
According to the Official Code of Georgia (OCGA) Section 16-13-30(k): “It shall be unlawful for any person to hire, solicit, or use an individual under the age of 17 years, in any manner, for the purpose of manufacturing, distributing, or dispensing, on behalf of the solicitor, any controlled substance, counterfeit substance, or marijuana … . Any person who violates this subsection shall be guilty of a felony and, upon conviction thereof, shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than five years nor more than 20 years or by a fine not to exceed $20,000 or both.
Two days later on Sept. 21, 1997, Payne resigned his position with the Forsyth Sheriff’s Office.
Forsyth District Attorney Gary Moss told the newspaper he did not expect possession or any other charges to be brought against Payne. Moss said Payne’s actions were a mistake, but there was no criminal action or intent.
Forsyth Sheriff Denny Hendrix felt differently about Payne’s actions.
“I told (Payne) if I had been investigating this, you would be in jail,” Forsyth County Sheriff Denny Hendrix.
Was Payne’s “mistake” that he kept seized drugs on his property in violation of Georgia law?
According to the Official Code of Georgia (OCGA) 16-13-30(l) “except as authorized by this article, it is unlawful for any person to possess, have under his control, manufacture, deliver, distribute, dispense, administer, purchase, sell, or possess with intent to distribute a counterfeit substance. Any person who violates this subsection shall be guilty of a felony, upon conviction thereof, shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than one year and not more than ten years.”
Hendrix said Payne’s incident is typical of the way the drug task force was handled by the previous administration (Sheriff Jerry Padgett). He said records, evidence, and equipment were scattered or missing when he took office in January.
But, why were the students arrested and not Payne? Did Payne’s boss, Capt. David Bennett know about the missing drugs and did he inform his boss Sheriff Jerry Padgett?
THREE DAYS BEFORE LEVI WAS MURDERED, DRUG TASK FORCE EVIDENCE ROOM CALLED A MESS
Upon taking office Jan. 1, 1998, Sheriff Denny Hendrix had the drug task force evidence room sealed. Ten months later it was opened for the first time. And what investigators found left them wondering how records were kept under former Sheriff Jerry Padgett, according to an Oct. 19, 1997 report in the Forsyth County News.
Investigators pulled out 70 weapons including handguns and rifles of various calibers. They found literally hundreds of case files and several boxes of evidence from drug cases, according to the report.
Three days later on Oct. 22, 1997, Levi Frady is murdered.
Forsyth Capt. Ernie Born said his department has no idea if the (drug) cases are federal, local or multi-jurisdictional. Some date back to 1989. They don’t know whether the cases ever went to court or even if the suspects were arrested. And they don’t know what evidence and weapons go with which cases, the newspaper reported.
Capt. Ernie Born said his department has no idea if the (drug) cases are federal, local or multi-jurisdictional.
Born also was the lead investigator on the Levi Frady case. He was interviewed by the author of this news blog in June 2014 about his findings.
“I was sitting with several people at the courthouse, and we were discussing the Frady case,” Born said, “and what my thoughts were on the investigation.
“They called me a liar. I should have sued all of them. I don’t know why I didn’t. I’d never been so humiliated and embarrassed in my whole law enforcement career.”
Attending the meeting that day was: GBI Agent Jim Hallman, Dawson County Sheriff Billy Carlisle, Dawson County Deputy Kevin Tanner (now House Rep. Tanner), Forsyth District Attorney Phil Smith, Dawson and Hall County District Attorney Lydia Sartain, Frank Frazier of the Forsyth District Attorney’s Office, Lt. Bill Miller of the Forsyth Sheriff’s Office, Col. Earl Singletary of the Forsyth Sheriff’s Office, Forsyth County Sheriff Denny Hendrix, and Maj. Ernie Born, according to a source familiar with the meeting.
Born served in the U.S. Air Force and was a long time employee of the Forsyth County Sheriff’s office having risen to the rank of captain.
He passed away Oct. 31, 2015.
During his funeral in Cumming, Ga., the pastor shared something Born’s wife Nancy had told him.
“Ernie and Nancy were married for 40 years,” the pastor told an overflowing crowd at McDonald and Son funeral home. “Nancy told me he was the most honest person she had ever met in her life.”
“They called me a liar … I’d never been so embarrassed and humiliated in my whole law enforcement career,” said Capt. Ernie Born
BENNETT’S LONG HISTORY OF SEXUALLY ABUSING WOMEN
In addition to missing drugs and money under Bennett’s tenure as the drug task force commander, he was also sued by D. Thrash who stated he made sexual advances toward her during a drug investigation in 1994-95.
In his ruling, Federal Judge William O’Kelly said the incidents of sexual harassment by Bennett showed a long patter of abuse, a pattern which was not responded to by the sheriff’s office command staff, according to a Jan. 21, 1998 report in the Forsyth County News.
“The issue here it not whether Bennett had a long history of sexually abusing women before the incidents in question, that is well established,” wrote O’Kelly.
“The real question is whether there is evidence that (former Sheriff Jerry Padgett) knew about such conduct while he was sheriff and before the plaintiff was assaulted by Bennett.
“There is a wealth of evidence that Padgett knew of Bennett’s behavior but tolerated it and did nothing to prevent such behavior or discipline Bennett, due to the friendship between the two defendants.”
Thrash’s case was settled out of court. Thrash charged Bennett with fondling her, exposing himself during questioning and calling her repeadedly, according to a Jan. 21, 1998 Forsyth County report. Bennett also asked Thrash for sexual favors in return for dropping or reducing the criminal charges against her.
Thrash’s attorney, Mark Bullman, said he was disappointed in (Forsyth’s) criminal justice system.
“I do not feel appropriate means were taken to get the case settled in criminal court,” Bullman told the Forsyth County News.
Did Padgett also look the other way when seized drugs and money went missing? Were those drugs being sold on the streets in Cumming, Ga., possibly to someone connected to Levi Frady?
Additionally, Bennett settled out of court on another suit filed by three women incarcerated several times in the Forsyth County jail between 1993-94. The suit alleged that Bennett watched one of the inmates change clothes when he went to her house to make an arrest and forcibly placed her hand on his genitals. Former Sheriffs Jerry Padget, Wesley Walraven, former Maj. Jesse Layne and former Deputy Mike Lanier were named in the suit along with Bennett.
The suit was settled out of court for $300,000, according to the March 28, 1997 Forsyth County News report.
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