Former BSC employee found guilty for theft of tractor

Published 7:44 pm Friday, February 13, 2015

Natalie Higley, former vice president of business affairs at Bainbridge State College, was sentenced to five years of probation Thursday after being found guilty for the theft of a 1976 Ford tractor from BSC property in 2006.

From the 13-count indictment originally handed down in February 2014, including an alleged violation of the Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, Higley was only charged with theft by conversion. Several employees also accused and charged for stealing from BSC testified against her.

South Georgia Judicial Circuit District Attorney Joe Mulholland said he was grateful the jury found Higley guilty for the theft, though he believed she deserved a more severe punishment.

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“I’m embarrassed to the community this was the sentence,” Mulholland said. “It certainly is something we don’t see a lot of times. I don’t know what kind of message this sends.”

Natalie L. Higley, Leonard Willis Dean, Larry Wayne McConnell and Enoch Spurgeon Benefield, Jr., were collectively charged with four counts of theft by receiving stolen property, four counts of theft by taking, two counts of theft by conversion, two counts of making a false statement and one count of violating the RICO Act in February 2014.

According to documents released by the Georgia Superior Court, Higley, along with the other BSC employees, illegally obtained and sold a number of items from the college, including a golf cart, portable storage buildings and the tractor.

In November 2014, During the November term Grand Jury, Benefield and Dean both pled guilty and each had their charges reduced to one count of Criminal Trespass misdemeanor, a $1,000 fine and 12 months of probation. McConnell pled nolo contendere during the May term Grand Jury and was charged with three counts of Theft by Taking, 36 months of consecutive probation and a $1,000 fine.

Higley was represented by Bainbridge attorney Ryan Cleveland, who fought hard to have his client exonerated.

Cleveland, who described the tractor as “junk,” argued Higley took measures to discern if the tractor was considered surplus inventory. According to Cleveland, the tractor hadn’t been recorded in BSC inventory for years.

“Violation of policy does not make it a crime,” Cleveland said. “In light of all the other actual thefts, I think that’s unfortunate (the jury) singled her out.”

Judge A. Wallace Cato delivered the sentence.