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Jury finds Riggins not guilty

Dougherty County School Board member Velvet Riggins is surrounded by a throng of supporters Friday as she leaves Dougherty Superior Court after being acquitted on all three counts of school lunch fraud against her. Riggins, who was suspended from office by Gov. Nathan Deal in July, immediately resumes her seat on the board.

Dougherty County School Board member Velvet Riggins is surrounded by a throng of supporters Friday as she leaves Dougherty Superior Court after being acquitted on all three counts of school lunch fraud against her. Riggins, who was suspended from office by Gov. Nathan Deal in July, immediately resumes her seat on the board.

ALBANY, Ga. — An eight-woman, four-man jury deliberated nearly two hours Friday before acquitting Dougherty County School board member Velvet Riggins on three counts of school lunch fraud.

"I am very relieved to get this over with," said Riggins, who was indicted in April on four counts of including false information on a Sept. 20, 2011, free and reduced-cost meal application to receive free lunches for her two children. "I am exhausted; it's been a long six months.

"God gets all the credit, and I am ready to get back to work on the school board," she said. "We have a SACS (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools) accreditation team in town next week. It's time to get back to work."

The state’s case centered on the lunch application for the 2011-12 school year which listed an annual income of just $9,066 from child support and her stipend as a School Board member.

On the income (Part 4) section of the application, she had written “Girl Scouts,” but left out a dollar amount in annual income. The $9,066 total qualified Riggins’ two children for free meals.

She filed a second application on Oct. 24, 2011, listing her $30,000 income from the Girl Scouts, which boosted her income to $39,053, which was more in line with previously filed applications.

The state’s case was weakened on Wednesday when former Child Nutrition Services Director Vanessa Hayes testified that because of the blank income line on the application, it should have been flagged and not processed. She said the department violated its own policy in that regard.

On Thursday, Superior Court Judge Stephen Goss granted defense attorney Mark Brimberry’s directed verdict motion to dismiss one of the four counts, felony public records fraud.

Goss based his decision on the prosecution citing the wrong state statute in its original charge letter. The judge, however, denied Brimberry’s other directed verdict motions, allowing the three other charges to stand.

The prosecution called seven witnesses to the stand during the week-long trial.

"We heard a lot of testimony and listened to both sides," jury foreman Tom Sharpe said. "We felt that there was not enough evidence that she (Riggins) intended to defraud the school system. To us it (the blank income line) seemed to be an honest mistake.

"It was fairly easy to reach our decision."

Brimberry, leaving the courthouse, appeared haggard but pleased.

"This case has been weighing heavily on me and my client," Brimberry said. "I am relieved, tired and happy for Velvet Riggins. I am glad to see that our judicial system worked the way it was designed to work."

Brimberry agreed that the Wednesday testimony of Hayes and applications clerk Eva Holiday marked a turning point in the case.

"Hayes' and Holiday's testimonies were huge," Brimberry said. "They brought home the point I was trying to make — that the Sept. 20 application was a simple mistake."

South Georgia Judicial Circuit Assistant District Attorney Heather Lanier, who prosecuted the case, did not immediately return a phone call requesting comment.

In late June, Gov. Nathan Deal suspended Riggins from the School Board pending resolution of the case. She is the only candidate who has qualified to run Nov. 6 for a new four-year term representing District 3 on School Board.

Her acquittal means she will immediately return to her seat on the board.

Comments

Dino58 1 year, 7 months ago

Due Process. Opinions do not matter, only the facts. Thank God idiots don't matter either.

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jglass 1 year, 7 months ago

Everyone knew she would be found "not guilty".

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saveourcity 1 year, 7 months ago

what a fine example for our children she is

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TheMember 1 year, 7 months ago

The one good thing that will come from this maybe, it will reduce the number of cheaters who are falsely filling out applications for free lunches.

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leesburg 1 year, 7 months ago

why would that be she was found not quilty

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alleebrin 1 year, 6 months ago

Wouldn't be at all surprised to see her kids still on the free lunch pgoram. You scratch my back and Illl scratch yours!!

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Jimboob 1 year, 6 months ago

If she lost her job at the Girl Scouts then she will qualify for free lunches.

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VSU 1 year, 6 months ago

If anything it will probably increase the number of cheaters filling out applications, even if they get caught they will get away free with no penalty.

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iko 1 year, 7 months ago

Let me reiterate what I posted earlier: the state's own witnesses undermined the case. This wasn't a strong case, but the DA wanted the publicity. End of story. Blame the jury if you want, but read the Herald's own reporting about what the evidence was. Terry Lewis sat there all week reporting and said he could not convict based on the evidence presented.

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MRKIA 1 year, 7 months ago

DUE PROCESS HAS RUN ITS COURSE, THE JURY HAS SPOKEN. LIVE WITH IT.

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Jacob 1 year, 7 months ago

True. She was aquitted. The DA had a bad case and succumbed to the pressure to prosecute anyway. The credibility of his office took one in the chops today.

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Dino58 1 year, 7 months ago

This is not the first time that the DA's office took one on the chops. The credibility of that office has been under question for quite some time now.

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iko 1 year, 7 months ago

This is par for the course. Do you remember when the Ken Hodges filth spent vast sums of money to prosecute the Scheer case over and over again, with nothing to show for it?

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Bulldawg 1 year, 7 months ago

Just another day in the "Good Life City." Lady justice is shedding a few tears right now.

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iko 1 year, 7 months ago

No, Bulldawg, Lady Justice cried herself dry when Ken Hodges wasn't ejected from office for leaking secret grand jury testimony.

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hotdog 1 year, 6 months ago

it shows that Lady Justice is not swayed by perception of the ignorant

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tywebb 1 year, 7 months ago

The biggest thing i learned from this........whatever district riggins represents is the epitome of hellbany! this woman, for all they knew, was going to get jail time and they couldn't come up with ANYBODY to run for her seat! How pitiful. Obviously, it doesn't matter now, but no one knew it back then!

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jglass 1 year, 7 months ago

iko, you are right. I hope the case with the Bakers is stronger.

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iko 1 year, 7 months ago

Notice what the article said: Judge Goss dismissed the felony count because the DA's office didn't even cite the correct law. How long did they have to prepare this and interview their OWN witnesses? How many thousands of dollars and hundreds of man hours were spent on this nonsense? Wait, maybe Steve Goss is a black preacher, right? Idiots.

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ASUALUM 1 year, 7 months ago

I wonder if it had been a white individual in this exact circumstance would anyone of you still have the same sentiments about Velvet Riggins or the judicial system of Albany.

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iko 1 year, 7 months ago

Yes, I would. It was a white judge who dismissed the bungled felony indictment. She was defended by a white attorney. Some of the jurors were white. This has nothing to do with race. This was a garbage prosecution done for PR.

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Albanite 1 year, 7 months ago

At least there is consistency in this decision.
It strongly reinforces the main overriding lesson that all children are now learning in the Dougherty County School System: "Lying and cheating are the RIGHT way to make it through life!"

Nice going Goss.

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VietVet1 1 year, 7 months ago

"God gets all the credit, and I am ready to get back to work on the school board,"

That's right, bring God's name into it. He knows what your are.

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iko 1 year, 7 months ago

"Heather Lanier, who prosecuted the case, did not immediately return a phone call requesting comment...." Had it been a conviction, they would have called every news organization from Atlanta down to Miami and had a huge photo-op on the steps of the courthouse.

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bigbob 1 year, 7 months ago

Told you from beginning this was a waste of taxpayer money. The black in Albany defense will win everytime.

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iko 1 year, 7 months ago

Are you aware the jury foreman was a white businessman?

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bigbob 1 year, 7 months ago

Do you realize the jury was 2/3 black?

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waltspecht 1 year, 7 months ago

Legally Not Guilty, but in the eyes of final judgement the truth will be known.

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Burke 1 year, 7 months ago

In the end, they were soft on velvet. Did anyone ask if her children filed through the cafeteria and paid for their meals?

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Margie 1 year, 7 months ago

To the “Quick and Furious,” What else do you want? There was an investigation and Riggins was removed from her position on the school board, pending an investigation, and she was prosecuted and acquitted by a jury of her peers. The case is no different than any other, the jury has spoken, and those who may disagreement with the outcome will just have to live with the results. When we are so busy trying to make something out of nothing, usually we get nothing. It is that hard to believe that perhaps in this case, that this case should not have came to a trial. That maybe the prosecutor should have paid more attention to the evidence, and not the audience. Based on the evidence, it is very possible that for Riggins, it was an honest error and a mistake. She began the application process, got distracted, and didn’t return to complete. The person that took the application should have called her to remind her that it was incomplete or shredded it, instead of processing. She wasn’t found guilty. I don’t think the lady is crazy enough to want to go to jail, especially she was offered a plea bargain. One would have to be crazy to not accept a plea, when you know that you are guilty. Now, if the application had been completed, AND she listed a lower income from Girl Scouts of America, than she actual made, then “yes”, that is intent. Furthermore, if Girl’s Scout dismissed or fired her based on this evidence, she needs to file a suit against them. I don’t believe or tolerate cheating, or stealing. And for those that actually did lie on their application with “intent”, should face the penalty. But, please let us not convict innocent people. The school system indeed needs to do a better job with accountability. What “if”… there are no “ifs.” Why are some of you so angry? I know some of you have done some “real” cheating in your day, compared to this case. Submitting another application, one month later says a lot. “Quick and Furious”, get over it, and accept the verdict, just like some of us have had to accept many verdicts that we didn’t agree with, and will have to accept the not guilty verdict that George Zimmerman will get, for murder. Oh, he will be acquitted. I didn’t like the verdict for OJ Simpson, killing his wife Nicole, but I had to accept it. Goss did his job, and brought the case to trial as by law. Did you want him to over throw the verdict? One thing for sure, if Riggins’ were white, justice in your opinion would have been served. GET OVER IT. Case is CLOSED!!!!!

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Outtahere 1 year, 6 months ago

"I know some of you have done some "real" cheating in your day"

We're not discussing "us", we are discussing Riggins and because other people cheat does not make it right. Furthermore, she was on the board of education and involved with Girl Scouts which holds her to a higher standard. Being a board member, she should have been intelligent enough to fill out a simple form. In her line of work, she should know the importance of filling out an income form correctly. If she was distracted initially, when she returned it was HER responsibility to look over it again.

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chinaberry25 1 year, 7 months ago

She'll be back next week at the Girl Scouts job and what a roll model she is. You can remove your child from the scouts as a show of disapproval. BTW, just because she was found not guilty does by no means she was innocent. She was as guilty as anyone who had ever sat in that seat.

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ittybittyme 1 year, 7 months ago

Margie....you are so ignorant. Race is not an issue. This woman is NOT INNOCENT...so you get over it and GET OVER YOURSELF!

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hotdog 1 year, 6 months ago

Maybe maybe not but she is not guilty....I know you are mad......anything that goes against your opinion is wrong....itty bitty IQ.....lol...blame Obama

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ittybittyme 1 year, 7 months ago

The racial make up of the jury is not relevant to me. I have sat on juries with all kinds of racial make up. What scared me and still scares me is the lack of common sense, intelligence and the unrealistic expectations these people had or have.

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iko 1 year, 6 months ago

Is it a lack of common sense to think she did this for a maximum of $32?

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Abytaxpayer 1 year, 6 months ago

iko lets try a little common sense here....Riggins knew she was not qualified before she ever ask for the form to fill out. Riggins knew if someday she were to get caught with her hand in the cookie jar she would need an excuse as to why she ACCIDENTLY qualified to receive a government handout. Riggins knew as did many of the “informed” public no one cares or is checking qualifications and if you apply you will receive the “Free Money”. Riggins was oblivious for a month she was getting “Free Money” and just woke up one day and said Wait I should NOT be getting the “Free Money” I just applied for. That is how the fairytale goes so now let’s try some Commons sense …… Riggins as a board member and hearing that someone else was being investigated immediately knew she could get caught and rushed to file a correct application….The fact that she maybe only got $32 dollars was because she got cold feet and ran from the crime scene claiming it was a mistake and tried to escape the truth that she applied for and was successfully stealing pennies. But maybe the fairytale should have just said O she is just so incompetent she goes around doing things before she even ask what are the requirements and has no understanding of what is required of her.

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dmyers80 1 year, 6 months ago

You dont have to ask for the form...It is sent home with every child in dcss

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Abytaxpayer 1 year, 6 months ago

My point was she made the effort of her own free will to fill out the form and ONLY filed a new one with correct income when the heat was on.

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JBruce 1 year, 6 months ago

If Ms. Riggins has difficulty understanding the proper procedure for filling out a relatively simple form to qualify her kids for free lunches then how can she be trusted to understand complex documents that require her input on school matters as she serves on the School Board? Even the uneducated welfare sows know all the requirements of manipulating questionnaires and outright lies necessary to continue to feed at the public trough.

Albany Georgia, you have a mess with all these immoral people in leadership positions. I can see why any decent, honest person with high morals would be looking to flee Albany as I did.

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Outtahere 1 year, 6 months ago

THANK YOU!!!!! I just replied to Margie and said the same thing even before reading your post. She can't fill out a simple form???? Why is she on the board again?? Complete incompetence!!!!!!!!!!

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FlunkyMonkey 1 year, 6 months ago

WELL THE ENTITLEMENT SYSTEM CONTINUES--BY HOOK OR CROOK, MY KIDS ARE ENTITLED AND THEY WILL GET WHAT THEY DON'T DESERVE SIMPLY BECAUSE THEY ARE ENTITLED AND I AM IGNORANT AND CANT FILL OUT THE APPLICATION SO PLEASE DON'T FIND ME GUILTY OF BEING IGNORANT I CAN'T HELP IT I AM A PRODUCT OF DOUGHERTY COUNTY SCHOOLS THIS DECISION IS DISGUSTING

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FryarTuk 1 year, 6 months ago

It was telling when the DA offered 2 misdemeanor pleas and they were turned down. The Brimberry firm seems to have the prosecutors' numbers in SWGA. I would like to know who is picking up the tariff on this case. If she has to take food from poor children how can she afford that law firm? They aint public defenders.

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FlunkyMonkey 1 year, 6 months ago

she stole the money for her defense from the indigent defense fund--she didn't know how to fill out the applicaition

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glennw 1 year, 6 months ago

On one hand, where there was compelling evidence of a Doughtery County School Board Member clearly defrauding it's citizens, that member, an African American, is found to have done nothing wrong.

On another hand, we have another Doughtey County School Board Member, who, prior to his election to the Board, but acting as a Contractor for it, discovers that a Primary Contractor, out of Atlanta, was over-charging the School Board, and all citizens of Doughtery County, around TWENTY MILLION DOLLARS, yet HE was fired from the project, losing revenues from it, his reputation sullied, being blackballed by those involved Albany who would be impacted by the discovery of the overcharges, yet when HE sued, trying to, at least allow the citizens of Doughtery County an opportunity to hear what had happened, and perhaps, THEY would, at least, give HIM credit and appreciation for doing the right thing, ESPECIALLY since his sole actions saved the taxpayers so many millions of dollars; but what happened? This Caucasian LOST in Court, here in Doughtery County.

An African American woman defrauding citizens, and basically stealing over a HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS out of their pockets gets away scot free.

A Caucasian man who saves citizens, TENS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS, getting nothing back, including no respect, which, by the way, meant the MINORITY CONTRACTOR, which attempted to OVERCHARGE Doughtery County's citizens was told everything they did was okay, and all of the within the "system" that was trying to allow for this huge overcharge to occur, and get them their own PERSONAL BENEFITS AS A RESULT OF THE OVERCHARGES, did okay, too.

You just have to love some people's logic...

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dmyers80 1 year, 6 months ago

Why was it not reported that a second application was filed with the correct information? This case was a reach at best from the start.

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tywebb 1 year, 6 months ago

the real question is......What made her fill out the second application? They already said they put a ? in the blank income space but filed it anyway. I'm thinking she got scared when gloria baker got busted and figured she better go do it the right way

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dmyers80 1 year, 6 months ago

The justice system... I guess it only works when you get the outcome you want... She went through the process and was found not guilty. And as far as " taking food out of poor kids mouth" and food she didnt "deserve" . Now I have 3 kids in dcss... a letter was sent home with my kindergartener saying her lunch tray would be taken would be taken away if she didnt have her lunch money... Meanwhile the PRISONERS eat FREE for life??? What kind of system is that??

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Terry.Lewis 1 year, 6 months ago

Actually, the kids still get a PBJ and a milk.

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GG126 1 year, 6 months ago

Maybe you should request a USDA F & R Meal Application,especially if your financial circumstances have changed.

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alleebrin 1 year, 6 months ago

The folks in the DA's office are the lowest paid in the legal field. Go figure!

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Clif 1 year, 6 months ago

Albany & Dougherty County......What a mess!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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bubbavet 1 year, 6 months ago

The DA is a joke. That's what got her off. She knows she is a thief and a liar. For her to bring God into it she will pay the ultimate price. OJ knows.

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VSU 1 year, 6 months ago

America, land of the free. Free lunch money, get caught stealing and get off free. Free food stamps, free welfare, free healthcare, free cell phones. FREE! FREE! FREE!

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hotdog 1 year, 6 months ago

shhhhh......I know you are mad...but get over it.....blame Obama

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Margie 1 year, 6 months ago

ittybittyme- it is you that need to "GET Over IT," because the woman was FOUND NOT GUILTY, and if the evidence had supported that she defrauded the program with "INTENT," then YES a guilty verdict should have been rendered. Based on MY Understanding and comprehension, Riggins kids got free lunch based on the incomplete application. She submitted another application and the error then was found, and only after a tip. But, the person doing the "tipping" should have looked more closely at the application if they had possession and realized that it is possible that an error occurred. It is also stated in the article that when the second application was submitted, it was more in line with her previous application. Riggins wasn’t being prosecuted for previous years, but for 2011-2012 year. It is very apparent that when the investigation was conducted, the investigators found no other evidence that would suggest fraud of those previous years. If they had I am certain that those years would have been included in the indictment. Based on Riggins income of $39,000 she would not have qualified for "free" lunch, but she could have qualified for a "reduced" priced lunch. The program is a federal funded program with specific guidelines. The application shouldn't have been processed with incomplete information. Again, if she had listed an incorrect amount for her income (lied), from all three entities and got free lunch, then yes, guilty should have been the verdict. But, the evidence was not there, and you are angry because the jury of her peers did not reach a guilty verdict. It was not a "hung" jury and it took 2 hours for them to make a decision. When this story came out, I was very upset, and I said then, and I say NOW, if she and the other person are guilty, then they need to face consequences. But, I also have enough intellect to know that there is a legal process that must be followed. It seems as though people assume that because she is a member of the school board, she shouldn’t have applied for assistance in the program. I am not the one that need to “Get” over it, I am. Oh yes, you are correct, just because a verdict is not guilty doesn’t been that the person is innocent. AND, just because a person is found innocent doesn’t always means that he/she is not guilty. There are a lot of innocent people incarcerated for crimes that they did not commit, just as there are many guilty people walking around that are as guilty as sin. But, what are we to do. There is a legal process, and sometimes the result is not as we expected, but we have to respect the decision and move on. I don’t always agreed with the outcome, but I am certainly glad that it is in place to at least give innocent people a fighting chance. Without the judicial system, people would be “tarred and feathered” first and tried in justice system last by people like you.

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FryarTuk 1 year, 6 months ago

Okay, she defrauded the poor children's lunch program without the intent. Har, Har, Har, Har! Face it that woman is corrupt and she along with the ruling rogues just don't want to give up the check book.

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bubbasmithredneck 1 year, 6 months ago

NOT GUILTY!!!! Hey SISTER RUBY.....SHE IS NOT GUILTY!!!!!! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

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Abytaxpayer 1 year, 6 months ago

Terry Thank You for your reporting on this case. You spent a lot of time in pursuit of the truth and Truth and Honesty is the only way Albany will ever improve. The more reporters like you that shine the light of open and honest discussion on a subject the fewer roaches will be able to stand the bright lights. Thank You

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waltspecht 1 year, 6 months ago

Now do we assume the DA was incompetant, or do we legally charge them with complaciency in the rigging of this trial?

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Bubbavet_rureel 1 year, 6 months ago

Hi guys, I'm watching things from afar, I get news access once a week over here, see you guys soon.

Semi-retired - BVR

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MRKIA 1 year, 6 months ago

I'LL SAY AGAIN:FREE SCHOOL LUNCHES SHOULD BE PART OF THE LEARNING EXPERIENCE. TAXPAYERS ARE PAYING FOR IT ANYWAY.

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bubbasmithredneck 1 year, 6 months ago

The Official "Sister Ruby was wrong again" party will be held tonight at Buffalo Wild Wings at 8pm. Come out and celebrate another victory for teachers and education while laughing at Sister Ruby and having a great time!!!! CHEERS!!!

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Sister_Ruby 1 year, 6 months ago

Call the Official Party what it is: the "You Can Get Away With Bloody Murder In Dougherty County If You Is Black" party. Yep, that's a really funny situation. And sad and trajic and will lead us all to HELL.

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doingwhatisright 1 year, 6 months ago

Bubba...no, it's not a victory for the teachers and certainly not for education. The teachers are once again slapped in the face with the decision to let another liar and thief get by. We, Bubba, are tired of the BOE, the downtown mess, the constant turmoil created by incompetent decision makers, the lies...I am all for a DCSS teacher walk out in protest of incompetent leadership during the most important weeks of the school year...END OF YEAR TESTING....that'll wake some folks up!

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Bubbavet_rureel 1 year, 6 months ago

The Hidden Agenda will not work anymore! Leave God's people alone. Go back to Valdosta, we are fighting for a better tomorrow in this area.

I will change my post name soon, hence, retiring BVR for good.Coach and Sister are the same poster, that's just my opinion.

Margie is the real deal.

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Abytaxpayer 1 year, 6 months ago

BVR...... Proof If a person is completely ignorant of the truth, the contradicting information can't challenge their belief in what they believe about an imaginary hidden agenda. Being ignorant to certain horrid facts means you can continue being blissfully happy so keep up you cry "we are fighting for a better tomorrow" We know you are the "Real DEAD END Deal" so live in your Bliss no matter what name you use....

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Sister_Ruby 1 year, 6 months ago

He does not live in "bliss".......he lives in the fog of Schlitz Malt Liquor.

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wino3800 1 year, 6 months ago

Wow?...she submitted an application she knew was incomplete, and she is a board member? This is a joke. Why accept this level of performance and competence? Don't you want people better than this? Deceptive and dishonest.

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gagal 1 year, 6 months ago

Innocent people go to jail as do guilty go free. Your elected official may not have filled out the paper work right, but she did recieve free lunch when she knew she should not. People complain about the schools in Albany, but then elect the types of officials. From the board members to the principals to the teachers, these are the people who are teaching your children how to lie, cheat and steal and get away with it. Go the "Good life city" what a joke!

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