Photo | Courtesy BCSO

Former Baldwin County Sheriff’s Deputy Carl Griffith was not criminally charged for falsifying time sheets, but allegedly reimbursed the county and was ordered by the Alabama Ethics Commission to pay a $6,000 fine.

A former Baldwin County sheriff’s deputy has been fined $6,000 for violating state ethics law more than a year after he resigned amid accusations of abusing overtime and falsifying time records for his personal gain.

Last August, the Alabama Ethics Commission unanimously found Carl Griffith, who was previously a sergeant with the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO), violated Alabama ethics law based on a 2017 complaint filed by Baldwin County District Attorney Bob Wilters’ office.

Last month, commissioners voted to assess a $6,000 administrative penalty against Griffith based upon those allegations dating back to November 2017, when the BCSO announced he’d resigned in the middle of an internal investigation after a 22-year career in law enforcement.

Griffith was accused of changing time records in order to receive overtime pay for hours he spent working a second job or not working at all. Baldwin County Sheriff Hoss Mack previously said Griffith’s manipulation of BCSO time records cost taxpayers around $7,566 — at least $1,500 of which came from state and federal grants for traffic enforcement.

After a full audit of the records in question, BCSO turned over its findings to Wilters’ office.

However, to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, Wilters decided to have the Ethics Commission handle the investigation. When the Ethics Commission finds someone has violated the law, it can present its findings to state prosecutors so criminal charges can be considered by a grand jury, but commissioners can also opt to resolve cases by assessing an administrative penalty in certain situations.

Speaking with Lagniappe last month, Wilters said he couldn’t confirm whether the case was ever presented to a separate grand jury.

Because he was a public employee rather than an elected official, Griffith’s offense was considered a “minor violation” as defined by the state’s ethics laws today. But before the 2018 legislative session, Griffith could have faced criminal charges for the same kind of offenses.

The definition of “minor violation” was expanded last August in a bill introduced by Rep. Alan Baker (R-Brewton), whose district includes a small portion of Baldwin County. The new law raised the financial threshold for what can be considered a minor violation by elected officials from anything exceeding $250 of loss to the public to anything exceeding $1,600.

It also clarified — regardless of the cost to Alabama taxpayers — that any ethics violation committed by a public employee can be considered a “minor violation” and resolved with an administrative penalty if the complainant and prosecutors agree to do so.

These administrative resolutions are only available to public employees who have resigned from the position occupied when the violation occurred and have also made “substantial or full restitution” to any victims. Griffith’s case seems to meet that criteria — he resigned before an ethics complaint was ever filed, and according to a spokesperson for BCSO the agency has “been repaid in full.”

In Griffith’s case, the Ethics Commission’s investigative findings were turned over to Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall’s office because Wilters had already raised concerns about the appearance of a conflict of interest. However, as the complainant, Wilters still had to agree to allow Griffith’s offense to be adjudicated as a “minor violation.”

“It was presented to the Ethics Commission for them to look at, and they recommended an administrative disposition of the case,” Wilters said. “They make the recommendation, send it to us and we can either approve or disapprove. We approved it.”

At its Dec. 19 hearing, with the blessings of both Wilters’ and Marshall’s offices, the commission unanimously granted Griffith’s request for an administrative resolution. Based on the commission’s ruling, Griffith was required to pay the $6,000 fine no later than Jan. 2, 2019.