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Employee arrested in GBI probe of New Hope Counseling

POSTED: October 4, 2013 12:05 a.m.

An employee for New Hope Counseling was arrested Wednesday after warrants were issued by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation in both Hall and Union counties.

Christine Zurblis, 37, director of New Hope Counseling, turned herself in to the Hall County jail yesterday where she was charged with two counts of false statements and one count of theft by taking. She was transferred to Union County jail where she has been charged with four counts of forgery 1st degree, GBI spokeswoman Sherry Lang said Thursday.

According to a GBI report, the agency launched its investigation into New Hope Counseling of Cumming at the request of Enotah Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge Raymond George, who stated New Hope bought equipment and supplies not provided to the accountability courts. The agency executed search warrants at New Hope offices in Gainesville and Cumming, in Forsyth County, on Sept. 24.

Two of Hall County’s accountability courts — DUI Court and the early intervention portion of Drug Court — contract with New Hope for counseling and treatment services .

Hall County Court Administrator Reggie Forrester announced last week that in the wake of the investigation, the courts would keep their contract with New Hope, with assurance from New Hope owner Tom Watkins of strict managerial oversight.

“We’ve had an excellent relationship with New Hope in that they provide qualified, licensed personnel to us for counseling, and our relationship has never had anything questioned about it,” Forrester said last Friday.

Forrester said Hall’s relationship differs from the Enotah circuit’s, as the county does not provide grant money to New Hope — its agreement is funded by the participants’ payments and revenues generated from the Drug, Alcohol, Treatment and Education fund.

In serving their arrest warrants in Hall, the GBI said Zurblis gave false statements at the Gainesville office of New Hope on Spring Street on Sept. 24.

In the first count, investigators alleged that Zurblis claimed equipment and supplies were distributed to two New Hope Offices in the circuit when she knew that was false; the funds were grants from the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council for the Enotah Judicial Circuit.

The second charge similarly alleges that Zurblis falsely told investigators that coffee and coffee supplies purchased through CJCC grants were used for New Hope clients.

She was charged with felony theft by taking for “being in lawful possession” of various office equipment that belonged to the Enotah Judicial Circuit with the intention to deprive the courts of the property, worth more than $1,500, the GBI said.

The date and location of the alleged theft was reported as June 1, 2013, at the Gainesville office.

Zurblis is represented by Gainesville attorney Graham McKinnon, who said “we were disappointed in the arrest.”

“It’s unfortunate ... I know she has a very good character, and we will just have to show that to a jury,” he said.

McKinnon said Zurblis has a financial managerial role for New Hope and has been put on a leave of absence.

He said he does not anticipate further arrests in the case.


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