(April 22) VIDALIA, Ga. — A representative from the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been selected to manage the Vidalia Onion Committee as law enforcement agencies continue to investigate the organization.

Susan Hiller, a USDA marketing specialist, will assist the committee for up to two months, said George Chartier, spokesman for the department’s Agricultural Marketing Service. Hiller has experience with fiscal management and committee operations.

Since late March, the Vidalia Onion Committee has been the focus of a state investigation into allegations that someone within the group misappropriated funds. No names were released.

Tina Wheeler, the committee’s executive director, was fired March 19, one week before the allegations surfaced. Wheeler has not returned requests for comment.

The Eastman-based Region 12 office of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and Vidalia Police Department are partners in the investigation.

At the onion committee’s board meeting April 20, members announced that the committee had narrowed down choices for legal counsel. The organization planned to choose one of three firms pending USDA review, Chartier said.

In addition, the group announced it would select an accounting firm to review its financial records. The USDA must approve the selection.

Chartier said he didn’t know when the firms would be picked, but he said the committee would likely choose its representatives as soon as possible.

During the meeting’s public session, committee members also said they have opened a new checking account for committee funds.

In a previous interview, Wheeler said the organization had planned no promotions in 2004 because it had acquired only $312,000 of its budgeted $414,000 in 2003.

The more than $100,000 deficit was blamed on poor crop production in 2002 and 2003, when Wheeler said Vidalia onion growers faced a 50% crop loss.