TIFTON -- In a sweeping grand jury indictment, Patricia Marie Schwalls and three other suspects have been collectively charged with 136 counts of theft and forgery and an additional count of arson stemming from a hardware store fire in July of last year.

Schwalls and her three children -- Misty Cone Johnson, Randy Marshall Cone and Jennifer Schwalls -- are accused of stealing more than $52,000 from HBT Hardware before Patricia Schwalls, then an employee of the store, allegedly burned the 63-year-old Main Street building to the ground. Cone was a former employee of the store.

Initially, Patricia Schwalls had been charged with 16 counts of theft by taking and 16 counts of forgery, and Johnson had been charged with a single count each of forgery and theft. However, throughout the investigation, GBI agents and other investigators found enough evidence to prompt a special presentment to the grand jury of 104 additional counts of theft and forgery.

Currently, Patricia Schwalls has been charged with 52 counts of theft by taking; 26 of which are felony counts; 52 counts of forgery and one count of arson in the first degree.

Johnson has been charged with 12 counts of theft by taking and 12 counts of forgery. Cone has been charged with four counts each of theft by taking and forgery, and Jennifer Schwalls was charged with a single count of forgery and theft by taking.

According to the indictment issued by the grand jury, the group allegedly stole $52,165.34 by making out company checks to themselves and then cashing them; some of the checks were for amounts over $4,000.

Schwalls is suspected of burning the HBT Hardware store to its foundation on July 9, 2003, causing more than $700,000 in damage.

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