A former GBI inspector who pleaded guilty to state charges of racketeering and violating the oath of a public officer in December 2017 recently pleaded guilty to related federal charges.
On Thursday, Sandra Putnam, 46, of Covington, who now goes by her married name of Sandra Stevens, pleaded guilty to four counts of mail fraud for racking up more than 325 personal charges, totaling over $60,000, on her government credit card.
Stevens received probation for the state charges, and will be sentenced for the federal charges at a later date.
According to U.S. Attorney BJay Pak, in October 1994, Stevens joined the GBI as an Intelligence Technician and on June 3, 1999, became a special agent.
As she worked her way up through the GBI, she held “several prestigious and high-ranking leadership positions, including being the Special Agent in Charge of the Child Exploitation and Computer Crimes Unit, where she supervised approximately 25 GBI employees; and an Inspector of the Investigative Division, where Stevens supervised approximately 55 GBI employees,” Pak said.
As the Inspector of the Investigative Division, Stevens earned more than $100,000 per year.
The trouble began in 2013, however, when Stevens used her P-Card — a credit card provided to Georgia employees for official business purchases such as supplies, materials, equipment and services for official use — and the P-Cards of other GBI employees to make more than 325 unauthorized purchases of “goods and services for her personal benefit or the personal benefit of others,” Pak said.
The purchases included: a seven-piece dining set for $562.99, a corn hole game set for $229.99, two chaise lounge chairs for $399.99 and a 65-inch ultra HD smart television for $1,597.99.
In addition to using the P-Cards illegally, Stevens also submitted altered receipts to the GBI in which she changed the description of the items purchased, the addresses to which the items were shipped, or both the item description and the shipping address.
“For example, on May 27, 2016, Stevens used another GBI employee’s P-Card to order a $930.12 sofa from Amazon.com that was delivered to her home in Covington, Georgia,” Pak said. “Subsequently, Stevens submitted a false receipt to the GBI in which she misrepresented the item description as 12 anti-spyware software discs, rather than a sofa, and misrepresented the shipping address as the GBI’s Headquarters in Decatur, Georgia, rather than her home address.”
In total, the GBI paid more than $60,000 for Stevens’ purchases, and, “as a result of Stevens’s scheme to defraud, federal money from the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Homeland Security grants was impacted,” Pak said.
“The GBI, law enforcement and the public placed great trust in Stevens based on her high-ranking position and years of service,” he said. “Stevens, however, betrayed that trust for material possessions.”
During her trial at the state level, Assistant Attorney General Blair McGowan asked that Stevens be sentenced to eight years in prison followed by 12 years on probation.
Sevens was represented by defense attorney Mario Ninfo, who countered McGowan’s sentence request, asking for a six-year probation sentence. He also asked that Stevens serve her first 30 days in the DeKalb County jail, and the first two years on home confinement so she could care for her sons.
But DeKalb County Superior Court Judge Clarence Seeliger said at the time that Stevens’ 21 years of honorable service in law enforcement offset the harm she caused by charging the GBI more than $60,000 for personal items, and sentenced her to 10 years on probation.
Her probation will end when she repays the $60,268.04 she fraudulently charged and completes 200 hours of community service. Seeliger’s sentence allowed her to retain her full retirement benefits from the state and does not automatically revoke her law enforcement certification.
Still, given the federal charges, Stevens is not necessarily off the hook.
“Sandra Stevens took an oath to uphold the laws of the state of Georgia,” said Interim GBI Director Scott Dutton. “Instead, she violated the public’s trust when she defrauded the government for personal gain. Public corruption will not be tolerated in Georgia and the GBI remains committed to working with our federal partners in these types of investigations.”