Vennie Rodrick Harden, a former investigator with the Gwinnett County, Georgia narcotics division, pleaded guilty Friday to violating his oath of office stemming from a 2009 money mishandling scandal that rocked the department, reports the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
Harden was accused of forging the name of co-defendant, former Special Investigations Section supervisor Lt. David Butler, to authorize payments to an informant. Butler was also indicted in 2010 for the misuse of department funds, and after pleading guilty in March, was sentenced to house arrest for one year.
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As part of Harden’s negotiated plea Friday, prosecutors agreed to drop three felony charges of forgery against Harden and reduce a felony theft charge to a misdemeanor.
Superior Court Judge Ronnie K. Batchelor sentenced Harden to five years of probation, with the first six months under house arrest. Batchelor also granted Harden first offender status, which means Harden’s record will be cleared after he completes his sentence.
Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter, who makes the final decisions about negotiated pleas, did not return a reporter’s calls on Friday. Assistant District Attorney John Warr said that Harden was allowed to plead guilty to fewer charges because there were problems with the credibility of the main witness — a confidential informant who has a criminal record and is slated to be deported.
“He was telling us one thing, and the defense attorney another,” Warr said.
Warr said the conflicting information might have damaged the informant’s credibility before a jury if the case had gone to trial.
Harden’s defense lawyer, Brian Steel, could not be reached for comment Friday.
Both Harden and Butler were arrested in October 2009, and the allegations — especially those against Butler — rattled the department.
Butler was a high-ranking supervisor and 24-year veteran of the department. He was accused of taking $4,000 in “flash money” from a safe in the Special Investigations Section. Flash money is used by undercover detectives to reassure drug dealers they are able to buy narcotics during an investigation.