Natalie L. Higley, a former vice president at Bainbridge State College, has been sentenced to probation and fines after a jury found her guilty of theft by conversion and theft by receiving.
Higley, Leonard Willis Dean, Larry Wayne McConnell and Enoch Spurgeon Benefield, Jr. were indicted by a Decatur County Grand Jury in February 2014.
They were initially charged with with four counts of theft by receiving stolen property, four counts of theft by taking, two counts of theft by conversion, two counts of making a false statement and one count of violating the Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizations Act.
Related: Read Full Indictment in this Case (1.1 MB PDF)
Higley was found not guilty of violating the RICO Act and was also found not guilty of another count of theft by conversion.
She was sentenced by Superior Court Judge A. Wallace Cato to serve five years on probation and pay a $3,000 fine.
Bainbridge State College property that the four were accused of stealing for their own use included a Ford tractor, a golf cart, an ice machine, two portable storage buildings, an electric hand saw, a table saw, an office table, a laptop bag and miscellaneous lumber.
According to District Attorney Joe Mulholland, the items went missing but their theft was not uncovered until an inventory audit was done in 2013.
Higley served as Bainbridge State College’s vice president of business affairs and plant operations from 2006 to 2009, and had previously worked in the college’s business office.
According to Mulholland, a number of items the college wasn’t using, but were under Higley’s purview, ended up being used for the personal use of the four who were indicted.
“One guy took a shed and ended up using it as a pool house; another defendant took home a golf cart to his kids,” Mulholland said.
When Higley left Bainbridge State in 2009, she gave the tractor to another employee, who passed it on to a third person–the third person then sold it for $1,500 in 2013.
“Our position was that since Ms. Higley was in a position of authority, she was by far the most culpable,” the district attorney said. “The other three pled to misdemeanors; we didn’t offer her the chance to plea to a misdemeanor, partly because she took possession of the most valuable item, the tractor.”
“It was a complicated and convoluted trial, because a lot of it had to do with business records and comparing the policies and practices of the Georgia Board of Regents to those that were in effect in a specific department at Bainbridge College,” Mulholland said. “Bainbridge State College law enforcement and the college in general did a fantastic job of putting this case together, we’re very lucky to have a good jury and we’re happy with the conviction.”
Two others have charges reduced in case
Larry McConnell pled nolo contendere during the May 2014 Grand Jury term and was charged with three counts of Theft by Taking, 36 months of consecutive probation and a $1,000 fine.
During the November 2014 Grand Jury, Benefield and Dean both pled guilty and each had their charges reduced to one count of Criminal Trespass misdemeanor, a $1,000 fine and 12 months of probation.