GRAY, Ga. — Jones County coroner Jerry Bridges Sr. is off the job and accused of taking over $100,000 from families.
He resigned Tuesday after being arrested on 24 fraud-related charges.
The sheriff's office said Bridges took that money in his role as former owner of Bridges Funeral Home and current owner of the Cedar Ridge cemetery, both in Gray.
"It's pretty atrocious," Lieutenant Kenny Gleaton with the Jones County Sheriff's office said of the charges. "22 of those counts were felony grade theft by conversion, two of those counts were felony grade misappropriation of funds."
Gleaton says Bridges stole over $100,000 from families, some funds going back to the 1990s.
Gleaton said he stole from two accounts, one set up to hold money that people paid in advance for funerals called a pre-needs account, the other to pay for perpetual care of lots at the Cedar Ridge Cemetery.
"Our records that we have recovered thus far indicate that those accounts have been drained," Gleaton said.
The sheriff's office has been investigating the thefts since October 2018 after a few complaints. In February, Jones County magistrate court also asked the sheriff's office to step in after some of those complaints were resolved.
"That's when our investigation began, we started subpoenaing bank records, search warrants for bank records, interviewing victims, that type of thing," Gleaton said.
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In all there are 22 victims of Bridges' alleged crimes. Gleaton said combing through bank records has been difficult because several banks are involved and some have had several owners.
He said they're working with other state agencies like the Georgia Secretary of State's office and found it's not the first time Bridges' business practices have been under scrutiny.
"We found out during the course of the investigation that Mr. Bridges had ongoing issues with the secretary of state's office," Gleaton said. "Alleging he's failing to abide by some of the regulations as far reporting, financial statements, annual reports, that type thing and evidently that had been an ongoing issue with the secretary of state's office for several years."
Gleaton said his office will continue to work with the state to determine if any of Bridges' alleged crimes overlap with state data.
Bridges was released from jail on $100,000 bond. He later resigned as Jones county coroner.
Probate Judge Mike Greene told WMAZ that he swore in Matt Jarratt as the new coroner Wednesday afternoon. Jarratt will serve the rest of Bridges' term, which is up in 2020.
The sheriff's office cleared the new owners of the Bridges Funeral Home, now the Gray Memorial Chapel and Crematory of any wrongdoing.
Anyone who may be worried about the location of their funeral money should call the Jones County Sheriff's office at 478-986-3489.