This story was updated April 10, 2018, at 11:59 p.m. with more information.
Though once defiant, former Dade County Sheriff Patrick Cannon has stopped fighting charges that he misused taxpayer money.
Cannon pleaded guilty to 13 counts of theft by conversion and five counts of violation of oath by a public official in Dade County Superior Court on Tuesday, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
Prosecutors accused him of using county funds on $4,400 worth of family phone bills, as well as a $3,400 shopping spree.
Cannon will not spend any time behind bars. As part of the agreement, GBI Special Agent in Charge Greg Ramey said, Cannon will serve 10 years on probation. He also agreed to pay a $9,600 fine, plus restitution to the county government.
Cannon was a rising political star a decade ago, when he was elected in 2004 at the age of 31. He also received praise in the wake of the 2011 tornadoes. He continued to work even after his home collapsed.
But after complaints from members of his department, the GBI began investigating Cannon's use of public money. In the midst of the investigation, Cannon lost a re-election bid in 2012. As reports of the criminal inquiries became public, Cannon told the Times Free Press he was innocent.
"It's political propaganda," Cannon said in January 2013.
"I never, ever [inappropriately] spent a dime of county money," he said in December 2014. "It's crap."
But in July 2015, a grand jury indicted Cannon. Prosecutors said he spent county money on suits and ties while still in office: $2,800 at Men's Warehouse and $600 at JCPenney.
Dade County Executive Ted Rumley said he noticed the spending in fall 2012 after he reviewed Cannon's county credit card statements. He said Cannon told him the clothes were for his investigators. They need to wear suits and ties in court.
Skeptical, Rumley called Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit District Attorney Herbert "Buzz" Franklin, sparking a criminal inquiry.
"That's why I look at them," Rumley said of the credit card statements. "To make sure everything is up and up."
According to the indictment, Cannon also used $4,400 of county money to cover his family's phone bills from September 2010 through November 2012. Rumley said he had not seen this spending because Cannon paid Verizon Wireless from his imprest funds. This is typically a cash fund set aside for minor expenses.
Cannon did not return a call to an old phone number. It's not clear if he still uses it. His attorney, Chris Townley, said Tuesday that Cannon made an Alford plea, a legal technicality. In such a plea, a defendant, while not admitting guilt, admits that prosecutors have enough evidence to prove in court that they are guilty.
Before the indictment, the GBI investigated other allegations of misusing public money, beginning in 2011. Members of his own department complained about him. According to their files, the GBI looked into whether he sold a state-issued truck for himself, spent taxpayer funds on a canopy for his home and illegally profited from the sale of goats.
Allegedly, Cannon kept the livestock after his deputies arrested a defendant who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizoaffective disorder and was not allowed to own animals. Cannon then sold the animals and supposedly kept the money for himself.
According to the investigation, the defendant was supposed to receive the profits. Cannon told the Times Free Press he needed the money to reimburse himself for feeding the goats.
Franklin told the Times Free Press at the time that the investigation did not have much physical evidence. The 2011 tornadoes may have hindered the case. Franklin said the natural disaster may have swept away some evidence.
Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.