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Former Hall tax assessor board members cry fraud against chairman

Official says pay was justified

POSTED: March 1, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Retired Hall County tax assessor Lyman Martin, right, and attorney Ashley Bell discuss Lyman Martin's and another former co-worker's accusation of fraud in the Tax Assessor's Office.

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Two former longtime employees of the Hall County Tax Assessor’s Office have accused the chairman of the Board of Tax Assessors of padding his per diem time sheets for more than $47,000 in fraudulent expenses during a five-year span.

The chairman, Emory L. Martin Jr., responded that he was paid only for days he did county business and said the accusers apparently bear a grudge against him.

Martin is accused by former employees James Cantrell and Lyman Martin of putting down 477 days of work at $100 per day for days when the other two board members did not meet between 2000 and 2004. Ashley Bell, an attorney hired to represent the two men, said that under the board’s policies, members can only be paid for days when at least two board members are present together.

A copy of rules and regulations signed by the three board members reads "board members shall only work on regular meeting days or at other called meetings as approved by a majority of the members," and that "no action may be taken unless the meeting is attended by at least two members."

Cantrell and Martin held a news conference in Bell’s office Tuesday, the same day Bell turned over six years of pay documents for the three board members to the office of Hall County District Attorney Lee Darragh.

Cantrell, who retired in December 2004, was chief real estate appraiser for the county for 24 years.
Lyman Martin, a Hall County employee for 34 years, retired as chief personal property appraiser in December. He is no relation to Emory Martin Jr.

Emory Martin Jr., in a brief phone interview after the news conference, said "there was no intent to do anything wrong."

"We get paid if we come to the office," Emory Martin said. "Any time we have to go up there, we get paid."

Cantrell said he made several complaints to Emory Martin Jr. about the time sheets he turned in but was rebuffed.

Cantrell said he "had three years to think about it, and I attempted to get something done, but I couldn’t get any interest. I knew it was a violation of policy."

District Attorney Lee Darragh confirmed Tuesday that he had received documents from Bell and would be speaking with him.

"He asked me to look at a particular situation and, as is common in those circumstances, I will give whatever allegations his clients may have appropriate consideration," Darragh said.

The Board of Tax Assessors is appointed to staggered terms of four, five or six years by the Hall County Board of Commissioners. It has responsibility over the Tax Assessors Office, including signing off on certain documents and fielding citizen complaints. Emory Martin Jr, who was first appointed to the board in the late 1980s, is serving a term that expires in December 2009. The other two members of the board are Terrell Gaines and William Vaughan.


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