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Sheriff Charged With Ordering Inmates to Pay for Jailing

Posted Nov 16, 2007 10:14 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Some justice officials in a southern Georgia county are accused of hitting criminal defendants with improper court fees and then requiring those who were jailed to pay for room and board.

A courthouse clerk in Clinch County pleaded guilty to fraud last month for paying county employees with improper $10 fees collected from criminal defendants, allegedly on the order of a local judge. Now the county sheriff has been indicted based on accusations he forced jailed inmates to pay $18 a day, the Associated Press reports.

Sheriff Winston Peterson is also accused of forcing an inmate to work at his wife’s business, interfering with a criminal investigation, and lying during a grand jury investigation of a judge. He charged with extortion, forced labor, perjury and obstruction of justice, the AP story says.

Peterson is accused of forcing inmates to sign promissory notes before their release on bond that said they could be returned to jail if they fail to pay their debt, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports. Peterson gave the money he collected to the county, the federal indictment says.

The inmates won return of their money in a civil suit last year.

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