Blanchard sheds light on $53k missing from safe and why he’s running for sheriff

Sheriff Candidate Lewis Blanchard entered an “all to the wall” phase of his campaign, providing more details about why he’s running for the public office.

Sheriff Candidate Lewis Blanchard entered an “all to the wall” phase of his campaign, providing more details about why he’s running for the public office.

During a question-and-answer portion of a “Meet the Candidate” dinner at the Burke County Office Park, Thursday, March 21, Sheriff Candidate Lewis Blanchard disclosed that $53,871.31 did not exist in the Burke County Sheriff Office’s safe during Sheriff Alfonzo Williams’ first four years in office.

The money in question originated from assets or evidence in unresolved court cases during former Sheriff Greg Coursey’s tenure. Williams’ signature on a Dec. 30, 2016, letter acknowledged receipt of the funds. Judge Daniel Craig signed an order Jan. 31, 2017, releasing the assets to the BCSO for law enforcement purposes. However, it was never properly deposited into the drug enforcement fund with the county. Six years later, after the county questioned the BCSO about the missing money, it was deposited into the forfeited funds account. Although Williams claimed the currency was in the safe the entire time, the money deposited was not in the same denominations.

“I can say unequivocally, as the Chief Deputy who also checked the safe for those four years, that the money was never in that safe,” Blanchard stated. “The Sheriff was given the money, along with other things, to take to the courts to be disposed of. We were told that it wasn’t going to be given back to the Sheriff’s Office and we never saw it again. That’s all I know about it. It’s part of an ongoing investigation so I can’t speculate on anything.”

Blanchard entered a new “all to the wall” phase of his campaign, addressing numerous other issues that exist under his opponent’s administration. During the discussion, Blanchard disclosed specific details of why he decided to run for sheriff. He explained to the crowd of more than 70 people that he retired shortly after the last Sheriff election. His retirement was prompted by Williams’ changes in areas like the budget, manpower and treatment of employees.

“Literally, three days after the second term (began), there were things the Sheriff wanted to change,” Blanchard remarked. “ I just don’t understand it…All of those changes, in my opinion, were going to have a direct impact on the citizens and visitors of Burke County. It wasn’t what I agreed with…”

However, Blanchard and Williams remained friendly, and during a meeting at a Belize resort, formally owned by Blanchard, a discussion took place about the negative direction in which the BCSO was headed. Blanchard considered coming back to the law enforcement agency to work, however, media coverage changed his mind and prompted him to run for the office of sheriff instead.

“It was just not something that I could put my name on,” Blanchard said of controversies covered in the news.

Referring specifically to budget-related debates, Blanchard presented part of his plan for fiscal management that includes doing away with positions that did not exist when he was the chief deputy. He quickly pointed out his decisions would not be directed at the people filling those roles currently, but rather at the lack of necessity for those positions. His plan, staying under the current budget, includes higher pay for deputies. It also includes certifying county mechanics to install emergency equipment.

“A deputy should not be working in this community for less than $50,000 period,” he stated. “I can do that when I am not wasting $600,000 by not using the county shop.”

More BCSO employees are sitting behind desks than at both the Richmond County Sheriff ’s Office and the Columbia County Sheriff ’s Office, according to Blanchard.

“We don’t need a human resource director, when the county has a human resource director,” Blanchard pointed out to a room that filled with applause. “We need deputies on the streets.”

Alluding to Augusta news media coverage that included allegations that Williams made DUI charges disappear for certain people, Blanchard promised he would not contradict the oath that commits him to uphold the law. However, he also addressed fears that he might be too tough. Although violent offenders require incarceration, he advocates for non-violent cases to be worked out with the solicitor’s office to achieve the best possible outcome.

“I am not going to be the guy who breaks the law for anybody,” he said. “But I am the guy that is there to help you.”

Further addressing specific practices currently in place, Blanchard criticized Williams’ procedure of excluding the cities’ crime statistics from county numbers.

“If someone is killed in Waynesboro, as far I am concerned, they were killed in Burke County,” he said. “The citizens deserve transparency.”

Another issue is the agency’s retention rate. In the approximately two years since Blanchard retired, the BCSO has experienced a 90% turnover rate, he said.

“People don’t leave jobs, they leave their boss,” Blanchard said quoting Williams.

Another topic was Williams’ decision to voluntarily give up the agency’s accreditation status, only to spend about $100,000 in the last year trying to gain it back. The agency is currently not accredited, something Blanchard said he would achieve within six months. If elected, Blanchard said he will also bring back the program that enabled nonviolent inmates to help clean up trash on the roadways. He promised to create programs that give inmates access to farm work and assisting at the animal shelter, along with implementing programs that assist them in obtaining commercial driver licenses and culinary certifications. He said he will also advocate for a local Boys and Girls Club. He promised easier access to media outlets in obtaining information subject to open records requests.

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