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Former DA pleads guilty, sentenced to 6 years in prison
Tim Madison, former district attorney of Jackson, Banks and Barrow counties, talks to his lawyers before pleading guilty to theft charges Tuesday in Banks County Superior Court in connection with an investigation of financial improprieties within his office. - photo by Robin Michener Nathan
HOMER - As district attorney of Northeast Georgia's Piedmont Judicial Circuit for 24 years, Tim Madison spent many hours prosecuting cases in the wood-paneled second-floor courtroom of the Banks County courthouse.

On Tuesday, Madison was the one being prosecuted, as the disgraced former DA for Banks, Jackson and Barrow counties pleaded guilty to stealing taxpayer money and was sentenced to six years in prison.

"I want to apologize to my community and my office for my actions, which were inexcusable," Madison, 55, told Senior Superior Court Judge Robert Mallis. "I'm very sorry I did this. All I can do is work to put the pieces of my life back together."
Prosecutors with Attorney General Thurbert Baker's office told the judge Madison diverted $40,000 in Banks County money into a slush fund ostensibly used for training. The money was used to buy a $7,000 motorcycle and $2,400 in sailing lessons, among other things, Senior Assistant Attorney General David McLaughlin said.

The case centered on a $50,000 salary paid to one of Madison's assistant district attorneys and money paid to Madison's wife for work as a victim-witness coordinator for a pretrial diversion program. Banks County commissioners, at Madison's request, agreed to pay the salary of Assistant District Attorney Brett Williams, unaware that he was already being paid by the state. Madison then directed Williams to keep $1,000 a month from the Banks County paycheck as a salary supplement, and use the remainder of the money for a training fund. About $34,000 in county money was stolen before Williams left the office in November 2006.

Madison's wife, Linn Jones Madison, fraudulently billed Banks County for hours she claimed to have worked when she was in other states, prosecutors said. In one instance, she submitted an invoice for five hours worked when she and her husband were on a gambling boat moored in Brunswick.

Madison blamed his actions on addictions to alcohol and gambling. Prosecutors said at least $500 in money stolen from Banks County was used by Madison at a casino in Lake Tahoe, Nev.

"The more alcohol I poured in my system, the more I buried my moral compass," Madison told the judge.

Nearly a dozen witnesses, from friends and family to courtroom adversaries, testified on Madison's behalf. Some spoke of his struggles with alcohol, while others testified to the good he had done while in office, including his work for victims of domestic violence.

Longtime Banks County criminal defense attorney Greg Perry said the judge should consider Madison's long record of public service.

"He makes one bad judgement and commits a theft and the whole 24 years, no one cares about," Perry said. "They all want to know what we're going to do now that he's broken the public trust."

"I know everyone's shouting, ‘send a message,' but you're not going to send a message to the other district attorneys, because they know better," Perry said.

Madison was flanked by two of Georgia's top criminal defense attorneys, Ed Tolley and Don Samuel, as he admitted guilt to the nine-count indictment. Tolley choked up as he told the judge in his sentencing argument that he considered Madison a longtime friend.

"I don't drink and I don't gamble, and the doggone thing is, I didn't know he did," Tolley said.

Mallis, the judge, interjected, "I don't think anyone did, Mr. Tolley."

The judge listened intently, took notes and asked numerous questions of the witnesses during the daylong hearing. Mallis said he had "read and re-read" the court briefs and letters written on Madison's behalf.

Mallis said his primary consideration in sentencing Madison was the damage the defendant did to the career of a young lawyer, Madison's former assistant, Williams. Williams, 37, took a job with the Georgia Attorney General's office after leaving Banks County, but resigned when the allegations came to light. He is under indictment and his criminal case remains pending.

"You have destroyed the career of a young lawyer," Mallis told Madison. "He will never be able to practice law again. To me, that's what makes this case egregious."

The criminal case was prompted by a series of investigative articles published by the Jackson Herald, a weekly newspaper in Jefferson. In court papers, prosecutors confirmed that the Georgia Bureau of Investigation began looking into financial improprieties by Madison's office after the articles were published in early 2007.

But while the Jackson Herald's articles focused on misuse of drug forfeiture and victim-witness funds for whitewater rafting trips and other expenditures, Madison was never charged for crimes committed in Jackson County.

Despite that, prosecutors noted in court filings that "for years, Madison siphoned off legitimate revenue sources ... for trips throughout the United States for his wife and him."

Madison also spent office money on a sailing school on Lake Lanier, rafting trips, kayaking trips, ski trips, Atlanta Braves baseball games, trips to the Georgia Aquarium and dinners at Outback Steakhouse and other restaurants, prosecutors claim.

These excursions were mandatory for certain office members, "ostensibly to promote office morale," prosecutors wrote. "But in reality, the events were selfish interests of Madison, made ‘office events' to justify expending office funds."

Banks County Sheriff Charles Chapman testified for the prosecution that Madison's actions "casts a lot of distrust on the whole part of law enforcement and the judicial system."

"We're all humans, prosecutors and law enforcement alike, but I think in this case the prosecuting attorney's office is held to higher standards, because it prosecutes people for the same thing," the sheriff said.

Alison Mauldin, a former assistant under Madison who briefly served as acting district attorney for the circuit after Madison resigned in June 2007, said the probe "was devastating on morale in the office."

Madison's acts "completely destroyed the office," Mauldin said.

Indeed, while prosecutors say that Mauldin, former Assistant District Attorney Brad Smith and a number of other staffers were not aware of the crimes, there was near-complete turnover in the office following Gov. Sonny Perdue's appointment of Rick Bridgeman as the circuit's district attorney. Bridgeman will stand for election in November.

"The office that was the office of Tim Madison doesn't exist anymore," McLaughlin told the judge.

After the hearing, Bridgeman, who had no involvement in the case, called it "a sad chapter in the history of this judicial circuit, and I'm glad this chapter's concluded."

Madison, who has paid back the stolen money, will serve six years of probation following his release from prison. Prosecutors say he will likely serve the prison sentence in a federal facility that can accommodate former prosecutors and law officers who are considered "at-risk" in the general prison population. Madison will report to the Banks County jail Saturday morning to begin serving his sentence.