Sheriff John Darr and Sunny Shah: The Price of Friendship

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In case you somehow haven’t heard the story yet, Columbus recently bore witness to the spectacle of three of our elected officials parading into federal court in order to testify on behalf of their mutual friend, Sawan “Sunny” Shah. Shah was convicted of taking part in a scheme to bilk taxpayers of $24 million. They weren’t there to testify to Mr. Shah’s innocence.  They walked into that courtroom, bearing the entire weight and dignity of the offices to which they were elected, and pleaded for leniency for a criminal convicted of stealing from our community. It wasn’t as if Mr. Shah had just slipped up once or twice and accidentally stuck a toe over the line. As Judge Land said, “Doing something 567 times does not suggest it was a mistake, it suggests it would have continued if he was not arrested.”

So it isn’t enough that Marshal Greg Countryman, Municipal Court Clerk Vivian Creighton-Bishop, and Sheriff John Darr are in the midst of suing the taxpayers of Columbus WITH taxpayer money to GET more taxpayer money; now they are prancing into court to beg for leniency for a man convicted of stealing from taxpayers 567 times. FIVE HUNDRED AND SIXTY-SEVEN TIMES.

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It appears that Sheriff Darr *finally* is concerned that the people of Columbus might be fed up with his shenanigans. Yesterday (2/18/2016),  he released a statement, on official Muscogee County Sheriff’s Office letterhead no less, trying to explain why he felt “compelled” to plea on behalf of a man who has stolen from the very community Darr is supposed to be protecting. In the very first sentence he tries to dismiss the criticism of Columbus citizens as being politically motivated in this election year. Maybe so. Maybe his actions have politically motivated the people of Columbus to demand that those who occupy our highest offices comport themselves with the dignity and integrity those offices deserve.

Sheriff Darr then goes on to detail his personal relationship with Sunny Shah and bemoan the political consequences his questionable actions may cost him in his attempt to get re-elected to a third term. I have to say, though, there were quite a few things that I noticed missing from his explanation.

First of all, I found any credibility that his actions on behalf of Mr. Shah were somehow separate from his Office of Sheriff missing. He went into that courtroom as Sheriff, he has attempted to explain his actions on Office of the Sheriff letterhead, and he posted this “explanation” on his elected official FaceBook page. It seems pretty obvious to me that he has used his status as an elected official to benefit a convicted criminal he calls a friend. I’ll be curious to see if the letter Darr submitted to the court on behalf of Mr. Shah is also on official Muscogee County Sheriff letterhead.

I also failed to see anything in Sheriff Darr’s “explanation” that expresses any sort of remorse for the way he has used his office (except, of course, for the political consequences it may cost him), nor did I see an apology to the people of Columbus for sullying the Office we entrusted him to uphold. He did it for a friend, and I guess that is just supposed to make it all OK. To be perfectly blunt, I know an awful lot of politicians. My relationships among those politicians run from active dislike to close friendships. There are two things I can tell you for sure; 1) If I ever got myself convicted of 567 acts of theft and fraud, none of them would risk the integrity of the office they hold to single me out among my fellow thieves and beg the judge not to send me to jail, and 2) I would NEVER expect or ask them to stain their office for my own benefit.

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The third thing I noticed missing from Sheriff Darr’s “explanation” was full disclosure. Mr. Shah isn’t just a super wonderful friend of Sheriff Darr’s, he also happens to be a pretty hefty financial contributor to Sheriff Darr’s political ambitions. Mr. Shah has contributed at least $2400 to Darr’s campaigns, and who knows how many friends and “business” associates Shah may have influenced to contribute to Darr.

Lastly, I didn’t see any offer from Sheriff Darr to return every last penny Mr. Shah contributed to his campaign. It seems proper that he should, if for no other reason than to remove any perception of a corrupting influence.

Yes, it would appear that the sort of friendship Sheriff Darr enjoys with Mr. Shah is the sort that might carry with it a very heavy price. Speaking for myself, I hope the price for Sheriff Darr is far more than Mr. Shah’s campaign contributions. I hope it is the privilege of being the Sheriff of this county. He has made our Sheriff’s Office a disgraceful shambles, and it is time for the people of Columbus to serve him notice we have had enough. The people who serve the city of Columbus within that Office deserve to be represented better, and so do the people of Columbus.

Peace and Love,