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Grand jury charges county commissioner Coleman, wife with insurance fraud
 tcooper  / 

Bob Coleman

Sherry Coleman

The State Board of Workers’ Compensation announced Glynn County Commissioner and local insurance agent Bob Coleman and his wife, Sherry Coleman, were charged Wednesday with 15 counts of felony violation of the Georgia Insurance Code.

According to the indictment, the Colemans face six counts of insurance fraud and nine counts of violating the Georgia Insurance Code’s reporting and disposition of premium requirement.

A press release from the workers’ compensation board states a grand jury handed down the indictments following a year-long investigation by the board’s enforcement division.

“The Colemans have been charged with defrauding customers who paid the pair for workers’ compensation insurance as well as other lines of insurance. The indictment handed down includes 10 separate victims. The case is still under active investigation and there is the possibility of additional victims and charges,” the release stated.

Workers’ compensation board Criminal Investigator Doug Williams did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday. He said in a prior email that no further details could be provided because the investigation was still ongoing.

Bob Coleman was re-elected to serve a third term in the At-large Post 2 seat on the Glynn County Commission in 2016.

In a statement, Glynn County Commission Chairman Mike Browning said the county will need to discuss any action it may need to take.

“At this time, we are working to make sure that the (Glynn County Commission) is aware of the situation. This is a matter for the (commissioners) and our county attorney to address and discuss next steps,” Browning said.

County spokesman Matthew Kent said there may be no precedent for such a thing in the Golden Isles.

Coleman Insurance’s office phone now redirects to Family First Insurance, owned by Jeffrey Guest. In an interview on Wednesday, Guest said he was unaware of the investigation into the Colemans dealings when he purchased Coleman Insurance Agency on Aug. 1, 2018.

“Neither Family First Insurance or Jeff Guest were involved in the investigation or any of the (alleged) wrongdoings. My capacity is to help take care of the clients,” Guest said. “... Because they did not disclose this to me, when I was made aware of this, I severed my relationship personally and professionally with them.”

He was made aware of the investigation on Oct. 29, well after signing the agreement to purchase Coleman Insurance Agency, he said. Knowing what he knows now, he believes the Colemans were aware of the investigation when they sold him the business.

“From all indication, they were aware of this (ongoing investigation) yet did not disclose this to me ... Because it was not disclosed to me, I am in the middle of this mess,” Guest said.

As the current owner of Coleman Insurance, Guest said he will assist any of the Colemans’ clients.

“The existing clientele who are not victims, I’m here to provide them with service. Feel free to contact me, come to my office, whatever. I’m here to service those who are not victims,” Guest said. “I don’t want them to be panicking.”

Family First can be reached by calling Coleman Insurance Agency at 912-265-5305.

Guest said he was told to direct anyone who believes they are a victim to contact the State Board of Workers’ Compensation’s Enforcement Division at 404-657-7285 or 800-533-0682.

Any business owners who purchased workers’ compensation insurance or general contractors who have received a certificate of insurance for workers’ compensation coverage from Coleman Insurance Agency are asked to contact the board as well.

The Colemans could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Federal courts find money for another week
 wwolfe  / 

Like pulling out the winter coat and discovering $20 in the pocket, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts announced Monday that the federal courts have a little more money around after all, and will continue operating a few days longer, should the partial government shutdown continue.

The AOC stated court fee balances and other “no-year” funds will allow the courts to operate close to normal until Jan. 18. Previously, the AOC said that money would run out Friday. To stretch their dollars, “courts have been asked to delay or defer non-mission critical expenses, such as new hires, non-case related travel and certain contracts. Judiciary employees are reporting to work and currently are in full-pay status.”

Courts, including those in the Southern District of Georgia, have stayed some civil cases — especially those that involve Justice Department attorneys and other executive branch staff. The AOC stated the General Services Administration is currently drawing down operations and doing what can be done to save money while minimizing the impact on services.

Criminal cases will continue, relatively unaffected.

Reports Wednesday afternoon from the White House indicate the shutdown is no closer to ending. President Donald Trump, according to news accounts, walked into the bipartisan meeting and asked Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi if she would back funding for a wall on the border with Mexico, if he allowed funding to reopen the government. She said no, and the president left the meeting.

Upcoming hearings

The Glynn County drug shed case is drawing to a close, with four sentencings and a plea agreement coming in the next weeks. John Eugene Overcash, listed as the top defendant in the indictment, is set to plead guilty Tuesday at 11 a.m. He was charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and distributing cocaine, crack and marijuana, possession of 500 grams or more of cocaine and marijuana with intent to distribute, possession of a firearm by a prohibited person, maintaining a drug-involved premises, possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime and illegal use of a phone.

Darrius Merrell’s sentencing is set for Feb. 6 at 1:30 p.m. He pleaded guilty Oct. 15 to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and distributing a quantity of cocaine, a lesser-included offense. The crime carries with it a maximum term of 20 years in prison and three years’ supervised release.

Richard Carter is to receive his sentence Feb. 8 at 10:30 a.m. Carter pleaded guilty Sept. 21 to possession of a quantity of marijuana with intent to distribute, which was also a lesser-included offense. He faces a maximum of five years in prison and two years’ supervised release.

Sentencing for Troy Crosby is also Feb. 8, at 1 p.m. He pleaded guilty Aug. 13 to distribution of cocaine, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, with a minimum of three years’ supervised release.

Following Crosby’s sentencing will be the sentencing hearing for Anthony Bernard Lewis, at 1:30 p.m. the same day. Lewis pleaded guilty Oct. 22 to the lesser-included offense of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and distributing a quantity of cocaine. As it’s the same crime as to what Merrell pleaded, it has the same maximum penalties.

In all, the federal grand jury presented this case issued 16 indictments. Following the sentencings of these four defendants, the case will be closed on six of the 16 charged.

In other federal criminal matters, Robert Curtis Johnson — the Jacksonville, Fla., man accused of running a drug distribution network in Southeast Georgia — received his arraignment Wednesday afternoon. As he still has a pending warrant in the Middle District of Florida, U.S. Magistrate Judge Benjamin Cheesbro determined that any bond discussions are moot. The court appointed attorney James B. Smith to represent Johnson.

Cops: Public defense attorney wrecks Neptune Park, charged with DUI
 lhobbs  / 

A public defender attorney in the local court system was arrested Monday evening and charged with DUI, stemming from an incident in which she allegedly drove an SUV over a handicapped parking sign in the Pier Village parking lot and caused damage inside Neptune Park on St. Simons Island, according to a Glynn County police report.

Police allege that Leslie Jean Cardin hit a trash can and a small tree in the oceanfront park, then drove back onto the roadway and drove away. She was stopped moments later at Mallery and Magnolia streets by a patrol officer responding to reports from concerned citizens of a dangerous driver, the police report said.

Cardin, of St. Simons Island, was booked into the Glynn County Detention Center at 7 p.m. Monday, charged with DUI and hit-and-run failure to report an accident, according to jail records. Cardin, 60, allegedly consented to a “state administered test of her breath,” the report said. She allegedly registered .187 and .179; the legal limit in Georgia is .08. Cardin was released from jail Tuesday on her own recognizance, jail records show.

Cardin is a public defender within the Brunswick Judicial Circuit, representing the Conflict Defender Office in Atlanta. The Conflict Defender Office assigns attorneys to represent individuals when the local judicial circuit Public Defender Office has a conflict of interest, said Brunswick Judicial Circuit Public Defender Stephen Tillman.

At around 6:30 p.m. Monday, police received reports that a “possible drunk driver ... was just observed driving through the playground area of Neptune Park,” the arrest report said. Witnesses told police the blue SUV “was driving over signs, trash cans, and running into trees, and fled the scene,” the report stated.

The vehicle then drove out of the Pier Village on Mallery Street toward the intersection at Kings Way. Moments later, county police officer Heather Savage encountered a blue Toyota C-HR “nearly hit a parked vehicle next to it” as it pulled into a parking lot at the intersection of Mallery and Magnolia streets, the report said. The officer allegedly smelled “a heavy aroma of alcoholic beverage emanating from the vehicle” as Cardin opened the door, the report said. “Cardin admitted to having one glass of wine approximately one hour ago,” the report said.

While Savage was questioning Cardin, a witness to the alleged incidents at Neptune Park arrived at the scene of the traffic stop and stated “that was the correct vehicle,” the report said. Another witness allegedly confirmed “that Cardin was the driver of the Blue SUV that was observed causing damage to the park,” the report said. Officer Savage “observed damage to Cardin’s SUV that was consistent with the damage to the park,” the report said.

Cardin was taken to Southeast Georgia Health System’s Brunswick campus hospital for medical clearance before being booked into the county jail, the report said.

Officer Savage later spoke with another witness at Neptune Park. The witness told the officer the he saw “an older white woman driving a blue SUV into a handicapped sign in a parking space,” the report said. After allegedly moving the vehicle in erratic movements backward and forward, the woman “drove over the sidewalk into Neptune Park. After crossing over the sidewalk, (the witness stated) he observed the blue SUV knock over a trash can and circle through the park.” While in the park, the driver “ran over a small tree knocking it over,” the report said.

The witness told police the vehicle “crossed over the sidewalk again, entered back into the parking lot and fled the area towards ... Mallery Street and Ocean Blvd.,” the report said.

County Public Works employees estimated the damage to Neptune Park at $600, department director Dave Austin said Wednesday. That estimate includes $500 for the tree and $100 repairing the handicapped parking sign, he said. The trash can was not damaged.

Proposed new regulations discussed at island town hall
 tcooper  / 

New regulations and amendments to existing ones accounted for much of the discussion at a town hall on St. Simons Island issues held Wednesday.

Golden Isles residents filled Sea Palms Resort’s grand ballroom Wednesday night to attend the first quarterly island town hall meeting of 2019 arranged by Glynn County Commissioner Peter Murphy — who represents St. Simons, Jekyll and Sea islands.

During a presentation at the beginning of the meeting, he updated the public on efforts to regulate short term rentals and golf carts.

Under the current ordinances, county code enforcement has a hard time dealing with short-term rentals. In addition, they often use third-party websites to avoid paying bed taxes on rentals.

County officials have been talking with a consultant that has helped other local governments establish regulations on short term rentals, and may bring them on board to do the same in the Golden Isles soon, he said.

Regulating golf carts is a little more complicated of a subject, however. County code isn’t up to state standards, but the state law isn’t as strict as county officials would like, he said.

As an example, state law requires cart owners install seat belt and child seats if children are in the vehicle, but not that they use them.

Glynn County is working on updating its ordinances, and he said he and other officials have taken the issue to state legislators.

Proposed golf cart regulations would likely apply exclusively to St. Simons Island, Murphy has previously said, but short-term rental regulations could apply countywide.

In line with the priorities set out in the county’s strategic plan, Murphy reminded the audience that the county engaged the services of a consultant to help rewrite its zoning ordinance and possibly change the zoning in some locations.

As an example, he used a Frederica Road property on which a developer submitted plans for a Dollar General. The site plan was denied follow protest island residents, which led to a lengthy court battle the county ultimately won.

The lot was zoned highway commercial, which did not fit in at all with the surrounding land usage, he said. More strict regulations, addition island overlay districts or zoning changes could prevent repeats in the future.

Following the presentation, he opened the floor to questions.

County resident Bill Pickard proposed banning outdoor burning in residential areas of the county, noting it is banned in the city of Brunswick and on Jekyll Island.

“I’m not in favor of more laws, I’m in favor of better laws, and I would like to suggest that when you look at those laws you tweak it, and you ban outdoor burning in the most developed areas: developed neighborhoods,” Pickard said.

Among those at the meeting, county commission Chairman Mike Browning agreed with him.

“That’s a problem all over Glynn County. Some of the less developed areas of Glynn County have the same problems,” Browning said.

Two members of the public brought up stormwater drainage, asking if the county’s code will account for future drainage needs and whether or not they adequately cover current needs.

Community Development Director Pamela Thompson addressed both questions, noting in some cases that the developer is at fault. However, drainage regulations will get attention along with other proposed planning and zoning ordinance changes, she said.

Murphy also covered other old business items in his presentation earlier in the meeting, addressing major road and infrastructure projects, efforts to preserve two historic trees in Neptune Park and planned shoreline protection measures, among other things.

A project to overhaul the stormwater drainage system in the Pier Village began this week, and will likely continue until around March. Contractors working on the project will need to teat up pavement and sidewalks, but the long-term benefits will be worth it, he said.

County staff will meet with the public every Wednesday at 10 a.m. in the Glynn County Casino Building to answer questions about the project until completion, Murphy added.

There hasn’t been much movement in preserving the trees, he said, but a proposal for moving the picnic area to another location may be forthcoming.

He also mentioned a proposed toll on the F.J. Torras Causeway. It’ s a long way off, but the idea is alive and well.

Should the public want to keep attending them, he said another town hall will be scheduled for the second quarter of 2019.