Former Washington County deputy clerk accused of grand theft, money laundering

CHIPLEY — A former Washington County Clerk of Court employee is facing three felony counts following a probe by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Peggy Gilmore Gay, 62, of Chipley is accused of using duties performed in her capacity as Washington County deputy clerk of court for personal gain, according to a 10-page arrest affidavit filed Wednesday.

Gay worked for the clerk’s office from 1996 until outgoing Interim Clerk of Court Harold Bazzel advised she was among staff members the office decided not to rehire after current Clerk of Court Lora Bell took office in November 2014.

According to the documents, Bazzel questioned Gay’s personal business activities, specifically that she provided copies of records obtained through the clerk’s office to perform background checks for private vendors. Gay stated former Clerk of Court Linda Cook, who passed away in 2014, had granted her permission to provide the service while she was still in office.

During the course of the investigation Bell, who worked alongside Gay until being elected clerk, told FDLE Special Agent Travis Lawson she recalled Gay performing the background checks. Bell stated she advised Gay she wouldn’t sign any contracts allowing the activity to continue until it could be reviewed.

Bazzel told investigators the clerk’s office’s finances were in “terrible condition” when he took over as interim Clerk of Court and that he was “even worried about making payroll on occasion.”

He went on to say funds generated by the background checks should not have been kept by Gay for personal gain, but rather belonged to the clerk’s office.

In the days following Gay’s departure, her computer and files retrieved from it were turned over to the FDLE for review in what FDLE spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger then called a “pre-investigation” into suspicious computer activity.

The review determined Gay had a business relationship with several companies to which she provided services and accessed the records and information provided through databases that were only available to her due to the fact she was an employee of the Washington County Clerk of Court.

The activity is said to have taken place from 2004 until Gay left the clerk’s office in November 2014.

“Gay utilized her Washington County Clerk of Court office email and fax machine, typically during the course of normal business hours, to conduct her private business, conducting background records checks for the businesses that were compensating her,” reads the document. “Gay conducted background records checks as part of her official duties as a Deputy Clerk of Court. The money Gay made by providing those records would have otherwise been paid to the County, a portion of which would have been paid to the State of Florida.”

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