A Gainesville man who started a fraudulent newspaper pleaded guilty earlier this week to 49 charges, many stemming from the operation of the Gainesville Observer newspaper. He was sentenced to eight years in prison.
Joshua Brian Randolph, 26, pleaded guilty to six counts of theft by taking, with two of them felony charges; six counts of forgery in the first degree; one count of forgery in the third degree; and one count in the fourth degree. He also pleaded guilty to 18 counts of theft of services, four counts of identification theft, 11 counts of financial transaction card fraud, one count of theft by deception and one count of security interest violation.
Randolph entered the plea himself without an attorney.
He was sentenced Tuesday by Hall County Superior Court Judge Bonnie Oliver to 25 years, with the first eight in prison and the rest on probation. One of the conditions of probation is that he must pay restitution totaling $47,780.27.
Oakwood investigator Danny Sridej said in June that Randolph started the newspaper, posting a website and social media accounts under the Gainesville Observer name. Randolph, going by the name “Kevin Cobb,” hired nine people, said Sridej, who believes the employees worked for Randolph for no more than two or three weeks.
Some of the theft by services charges relate to payment to those employees, including two reporters, an editor and an administrative services employee.
Randolph also had work done, including painting, at the office on 720 Main St., Gainesville. One felony theft by taking charge results from that incident, in which Randolph hired Dale’s Painting and “did unlawfully take paint, labor and painting services ... with a value of more than $1,500,” according to court documents.
Hugh Dale, owner of the company, said in June that he did work for a man calling himself Kevin Cobb and the incident put him out $4,300.
“It’s gonna take me working basically just for operating money — nothing to put in my household for the next month and a half just to get back even,” he said at the time. “... The thing is he had no conscience. He knew how bad I was struggling.”
Dale said he provides for his grandchildren.
Another theft by taking count was for taking business cards and other goods and services from Gainesville Printing Post, and another count was for taking office space from Danny L. Scroggs, a value of more than $1,500. A related forgery charge indicates Randolph attempted to pay for that space with a check in the name of Kevin Cobb.
One of the theft by services charges was related to Randolph obtaining telephone equipment in May from Cox Communications “with the intent to avoid payment.”
Another financial transaction card fraud charge relates to getting services from Hulsey Plumbing and Environmental “with the intent to defraud the card issuer and the provider of said services,” according to court documents.
Most of the charges relate to different victims.
District Attorney Lee Darragh said restitution payments would begin when Randolph was released from prison and the probation office would set up a schedule of payments.
“The restitution is usually not as fast as the victims of any such case would like to see,” Darragh said.
He said the way payments are set up has changed over the years and he was not sure whether payments would be made to all of Randolph’s victims at the same time or if payments would go one at a time.
“The sentence of the court was appropriate for the crimes he committed,” Darragh said. “And hopefully the defendant will have learned something from this experience, but that remains to be seen by his future actions.”
Randolph is currently being held at the Hall County Jail.