The GBI investigation comes after Chatham County officials conducted an audit of Metts’ office, a copy of which was obtained by The Savannah Morning News. The Associated Press requested a copy of the audit under Georgia’s Open Records Act, but county attorneys refused, citing the criminal investigation.
In its report, The Savannah Morning News said auditors questioned payments for a secretary the coroner didn’t have. Metts told auditors the money went to supplement the pay of his assistant coroner and to cover other office expenses, the newspaper reported.
The newspaper also said auditors flagged $7,112 in personal property taxes; $3,707 in auto insurance payments for private vehicles; $2,549 for personal cellphone bills and a payment to the county Republican Party for $1,638 — the amount Metts owed the local GOP last year to qualify as a candidate for coroner.
After Metts resigned, a judge appointed another physician, Dr. Bill Wessinger, to serve as coroner. Georgia law says the appointed coroner will serve until the next general election, which will come in 2014.
It appears the former coroner may have hoped to settle the case without involving authorities. On Dec. 28, a check for $126,000 from Metts’ personal bank account was sent to county officials along with a letter from his son, attorney James Metts III, asking that the money be applied to ‘‘accounting discrepancies’’ uncovered by auditors.
The county received a second check from Metts, this time for $15,000, on Tuesday. Jon Hart, the county attorney, said officials had not decided what to do with the checks.
While Metts relished his work as a physician and coroner, he never was much of a bookkeeper, friends said.
‘‘The last thing he wanted to do was pay attention and cross T’s and dot I’s on administrative stuff,’’ Seiler said.