ATHENS, Ga. — A former Athens-Clarke County coroner last week pleaded guilty in federal court in connection with the theft of firearms from an Athens gun dealer.
Bobby Tribble, 62, admitted to stealing five guns from Franklin Gun Shop in December 2014, said Michael J. Moore, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia.
In a negotiated agreement, Tribble pleaded guilty to one count of possession of a firearm. When sentenced at a later date, he faces a possible maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. As part of his sentencing, the former Walton County sheriff’s deputy and police training instructor is to surrender his Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training certification.
“A man who will steal guns has no business working in a gun store or holding a POST certification,” Moore said. “Guns in the possession of good, law-abiding people is one thing. A gun in the hands of someone who steals it is quite a different matter and won’t be tolerated.”
Tribble reportedly stole the guns from Franklin’s when he was a seasonal worker there prior to Christmas last year. According to court records, Tribble stole the guns by adding them to federal firearms transfer forms filled out by customers for the purchase of different guns.
According to court records, the thefts were discovered after an employee found an empty box for a 9mm pistol that was associated with a customer’s firearms transfer form. The box was subsequently shipped to that customer, who then inquired about why he received a box for a gun he never bought. The gun shop then brought the matter to the attention to the Athens-Clarke County Police Department and U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and firearms. Tribble admitted stealing five guns from Franklin’s during the ensuing investigation.
Tribble was previously accused of firearms theft while serving as coroner in Athens in 2007. A woman from New Jersey accused him of stealing guns from her father’s house after Tribble pronounced the 86-year-old gun owner dead of heart failure. The several guns reported stolen included an antique German Luger valued at $2,000 and the late owner’s Navy sidearm from World War II.
Mary Lee Sharpe said when she and her brother came to Georgia three days after their father’s death, they took inventory of belongings and couldn’t find her father’s six guns, as well as boxes of ammunition and holsters.
She asked police what happened to the firearms, but did not receive an immediate answer because there was no report of anything taken from the house after her father’s death. After some digging, a detective found out Tribble took the guns.
In an interview with the Athens Banner-Herald, Sharpe called Tribble “despicable” for going through the house on Fairfield Circle and taking the guns while her father lie dead in the garage.
Tribble responded to the newspaper by saying he only took the firearms for safekeeping because of burglaries in the area.
Sharpe reported the alleged firearms thefts to the Athens-Clarke County police officials, who told her they were unable to do anything about it because they did not have authority to investigate an elected official. The woman later met with Georgia Bureau of Investigation officials, who did have that authority, after which time Sharpe decided not to seek charges against Tribble. She would not explain her change of heart when asked by the Banner-Herald.
At the time, Tribble told the newspaper the woman’s accusations were a “misunderstanding.”
Two years prior to the firearms theft allegation, in 2001, a cadet’s complaint that Tribble sexually harassed her led to Tribble’s termination from the Northeast Georgia Police Academy, where he had been an instructor since 1985.
Although POST investigators were unable to corroborate allegations Tribble groped and harassed the cadet, they concluded “something unusual occurred” and noted Tribble failed a polygraph test.
“Tribble was seen as deceptive on all of the key questions during the (polygraph) interview in regard to the incidents,” noted an executive summary of the investigation.
Another controversy arose in 2008, when Sonny Wilson unseated Tribble from the coroner’s post. In his campaign, Wilson challenged Tribble’s qualifications due to Tribble maintaining a residence outside the county in Watkinsville.
When he was coroner in Athens, Tribble was also working for the Walton County Sheriff’s Office, leaving in 2012. As a captain there, he headed the agency’s training division and taught a firearms safety course for civilians.
Tribble also was an officer with the former Athens Police Department, from 1977 to 1986, prior to unification of city and Clarke County governments.