A suspended Augusta commissioner was found guilty after a four-day trial of destroying records in a federal investigation, and then lying about it to federal investigators researching the case.
Sammie Lee Sias, 67, of Hephzibah, Ga., who was suspended from his District 4 seat on the Augusta Commission after his indictment, was found guilty by a U.S. District Court jury of Destruction, Alteration, or Falsification of Records in Federal Investigations; and False Statement or Representation Made to a Department or Agency of the United States, said David H. Estes, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia. The charges carry a maximum statutory penalty of up to 20 years in federal prison, along with substantial financial penalties and up to five years of supervised release following completion of any prison term.
There is no parole in the federal system.
“Former Commissioner Sias knew his handling of sales tax funds was under investigation, and he deleted thousands of electronic files within hours of a federal order requiring him to provide those files,” said U.S. Attorney Estes. “This verdict demonstrates that no one is above the law, and that there is a penalty for obstructing investigators working to find the truth.”
As described in court documents and testimony, the FBI and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation were investigating Sias’ role in expenditures of Richmond County Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) funds when an FBI special agent served Sandridge and Sias with federal subpoenas between July 30 and Aug. 5, 2019, for records regarding the Sandridge Community Association (SCA), Jamestown Community Center, Jamestown Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST), SCA Board of Directors, and SCA Summer Camp. At the time, Sias was the long-time president of the SCA, which operated the Richmond County government-owned Jamestown Community Center.
FBI computer experts testified that within hours of the agent’s visit, Sias deleted approximately 7,000 relevant files from a laptop computer in his possession that belonged to the Jamestown Community Center.
Four days later, during a recorded interview with an FBI agent, Sias lied when he told the agent that he had provided all files in his possession related to the investigation. Digital forensics experts later found evidence of those missing files on the laptop, and in July 2021, a U.S. District Court grand jury named Sias in a two-count felony indictment.
After four days of testimony, the jury deliberated for just two hours before delivering guilty verdicts on both counts of the indictment.
Sias is free on bond pending sentencing. U.S. District Court Chief Judge J. Randal Hall will set a sentencing date for Sias following an investigation by U.S. Probation Services.
The case is being investigated by the FBI and the GBI, and prosecuted for the United States by Assistant U.S. Attorney and Criminal Division Chief Patricia G. Rhodes, and Assistant U.S. Attorney and Deputy Criminal Chief Tara M. Lyons.