On Wednesday, October 16, 2013, Paul Sylvester Thornhill, a former Medical College of Georgia (now Georgia Regents University) employee, pleaded guilty in Tattnall County Superior Court to one count of Racketeering (O.C.G.A. § 16-14-4(c)). The plea stems from his role in using falsified time records to steal money from the State. Judge Charles P. Rose Jr., sentenced Thornhill under the First Offender Act to six months in prison, followed by nine and a half months probation. He was also ordered to pay $80,000 in restitution.
As an hourly employee of the Medical College of Georgia, Thornhill was contracted to work as a licensed practical nurse at the Georgia State Prison (GSP) in Reidsville. While working at GSP in Reidsville, Thornhill participated in a fraudulent payroll scheme with Debbie Lynn Wright, a former senior clerk responsible for timekeeping of hourly employees.
Debbie Lynn Wright manually entered fraudulent data into timekeeping software which resulted in Thornhill being paid for overtime hours that he did not work and receiving double or triple payment for working the same hours. The fraudulent payment was either directly deposited by the State of Georgia into various bank accounts of Thornhill or paid by the State via checks cashed or deposited by Thornhill. Thornhill would then return the money to Debbie Lynn Wright or would pay bills on her behalf and then would retain the balance for his own use.
Debbie Lynn Wright pleaded guilty in Tattnall County Superior Court on November 1, 2012, to one count of Racketeering (O.C.G.A. § 16-14-4(c)). She was sentenced under the First Offender Act to two years imprisonment, followed by eight years probation and restitution in the amount of $27,500.
Debbie Lynn Wright’s daughter, Christin Lynn Wright, who also took part in the scheme, pleaded guilty on February 13, 2013, in Tattnall County Superior Court to one count of Racketeering (O.C.G.A. § 16-14-4(c)) and one count of Theft by Taking (O.C.G.A. § 16-8-2 & § 16-8-12(a)(3)). She was sentenced under the First Offender Act to one year in prison, followed by four years probation and restitution in the amount of $10,296.93.
All three former employees were initially investigated at the request of the warden of the facility following a whistleblower complaint in December 2009. Their employment was terminated within two weeks of the allegations having first surfaced.
Assistant Attorney General Greg Lohmeier and former Assistant Attorney General Shepard Orlow prosecuted the case on behalf of the State of Georgia. The case was investigated by Special Agent James O’Sullivan of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and Will Barnes and Eddie Yates of the Georgia Health Sciences University.