COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — One of the eight people accused of stealing thousands of dollars from the Muscogee County Superior/State Court Clerk’s Office pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court.
News 3 was the only media present in U.S. District Court this morning when George Cook entered his guilty plea in front of U.S. District Court Judge Clay Land.
Seven of the eight co-defendants, including former Chief Deputy Clerk Willie Demps – the man prosecutors say was the central figure in a conspiracy that allegedly stole millions in pubic funds — appeared in front of Land in a court session that lasted slightly over an hour.
The proceedings centered on George Cook.
The indictment against Willie Demps and the others alleges that Demps wrote stolen checks from the clerk’s office and the co-defendants – including Cook — cashed those checks at three Columbus-area banks.
Cook admitted in court to cashing 18 checks totaling $215,196. Cook would cash the checks, which ranged from $2,000 to nearly $5,000. He would then give the money back to Demps, who would give some of the money back to Cook.
This allegedly happened between Jan. and Nov. 2019.
Cook also admitted to sending a $1,400 wire transfer at Demps instruction to the Ivory Coast. One of the allegations is Demps was wiring large sums of money overseas, specifically to African countries.
At least two other codefendants, Terry McBride and Lamarcus Palmer indicated through their attorneys that they plan to enter guilty pleas next month. All of the co-defendants, except Demps, said through their attorneys they were considering plea offers.
Cook pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud. His defense attorney, Gautier Kitchen, told News 3 why he entered the plea that could cost him up to 30 years in prison.
“We are participating with the government, cooperating in hopes of lenient sentencing.”
The indictment alleges that Demps, Cook, Palmer, McBride, Curtis Porch, Dereen Porch, Rosalee Bassi, and Samuel Cole are accused of stealing more than $467,000 over 11 months.
Prosecutors have alleged that this is a much deeper scam than what was outlined in the indictment. Demps was in a key money-handling position in the clerk’s office for more than 25 years.
Demps is the only one of the eight co-defendants who remains in custody.