GBI investigates police data theft

By Jim Wallace - bio | email

ALBANY, GA (WALB) –   A Dougherty County Sheriff's deputy is accused of stealing the identity of an inmate.  Sheriff Kevin Sproul says there could be more people involved in the crime and possibly more victims. The GBI continues to investigate.

Dougherty County Sheriff's Deputy Charles Tharpe, a nearly 11 year veteran, was arrested Tuesday and charged with computer theft. Investigators say Tharpe used the jail computers to steal an inmate's Social Security number and personal information, then used his identity to open accounts for cash.

But they say the investigation is far from over. Tharpe is charged with using the jail computer to steal the social security number and personal information from an inmate sentenced to a long term in prison, and stealing his identity.

"From involvement in processing taxes to opening up accounts or whatever. For whatever reasons, I'm not sure. I don't know how deep this is, because the GBI is working it," Sheriff Kevin Sproul said.

Sproul said Investigators believe Tharpe was working with other people in the community in this computer identity theft, and that more charges and arrests are possible. So far there is only one known victim, but he said it's also possible there are more inmates that have been victimized. And the GBI is also investigating if more Deputies are involved.

"As of this moment there is no indication that there has been. But as I said the GBI is continuing their investigation and we're hoping and praying there is not," Sproul said.

Sproul said this arrest has shaken him, because Tharpe was not only an employee, but a trusted friend he had worked closely with on many community projects.

"He's one that I've built a rapport with over the years. And so it's been really a gut wrenching experience. Let's just say that."

Sheriff Sproul says he brought in the GBI to assure the community there is no cover up in this investigation.

Sheriff Sproul said he is dedicated to protecting his inmates, and he says he can only imagine the problems for an inmate coming out of prison, trying to put his life back together, and finding out his financial identity was stolen 20 years ago.

Deputy Tharpe was held in the Lee County jail following his arrest, but has now been released on $20,000 bond.

Identity theft is the fastest growing crime. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, drug trafficking is now being replace by identity theft as the number one crime.

10 million people become victims each year. That means every minute, 19 people become victims of identity fraud.

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