John Darr defends decision to support convicted criminal 'Sunny' Shah



Sheriff John Darr sits down with the Ledger-Enquirer for an interview last year.
Sheriff John Darr sits down with the Ledger-Enquirer for an interview last year. mhaskey@ledger-enquirer.com

Muscogee County Sheriff John Darr sent a one-page letter to his staff, supporters and friends late Thursday explaining his reasons for testifying in federal court last month to ask for a lesser sentence for a Columbus man convicted of a financial crime.

During the Jan. 26 sentencing hearing of convenience store owner Sawan “Sunny” Shah in front of U.S. District Court Judge Clay Land, Darr asked the judge to consider a probation sentence instead of prison time. Land sentenced Shah to 21 months in federal prison and ordered him to pay more than $1.3 million in fines and restitution for operating an unlicensed money transmitting business. Shah admitted to cashing 567 fake income tax refund checks totaling more than $1.3 million.

“While I would never and do not condone the violation of any law on the local, state or federal level, and while I know my explanation will not be sufficient to some, what I can tell you that in each one of us there is both light and darkness,” Darr wrote in the letter that was also posted to his Facebook page.

“I knew then, as I certainly know now, that I would be and will continue to be criticized for offering testimony to a man accused of what can only be considered a very serious crime.”

Darr was not alone in vouching for Shah’s character. Three other elected officials, U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, Muscogee County Marshal Greg Countryman and Municipal Court Clerk Vivian Creighton-Bishop, wrote character letters for Shah that Land referenced in his sentencing. Darr also wrote a character letter, but he was the only one to testify in court.

The sheriff said he has been receiving “some phone calls” and questions about his testimony and that is why he sent the letter to his staff and supporters. The sheriff had been working on the letter for some time and decided to finish it after a Thursday morning interview with the Ledger-Enquirer about his support of Shah.

“I had only experienced the light side of Mr. Shah and never experienced any of his dark nature,” Darr wrote to his staff. “… when he faltered, I was profoundly disappointed.”

Darr has known Shah since 2008, and in 2012, state campaign records show Shah made a $2,400 contribution to the sheriff’s re-election bid.

Darr has announced he will be seeking a third term later this year.

Coming online Saturday night: The Ledger-Enquirer fought to gain access to character letters from elected officials in the criminal case of Sawan Shah. A federal judge earlier this month granted the newspaper access to 24 letters, including four from elected officials. We will report what we found.

sheriff john darr letter to people defending sunny shah