Former Greenwood County Sheriff’s Office administrative assistant Sandi McAllister Owens pleaded not guilty Thursday afternoon to a charge of embezzlement greater than $10,000.
The appearance was Owens’ first in a courtroom since her indictment was handed down by a Greenwood County Grand Jury earlier this month. After entering her plea before Circuit Judge Eugene Griffith, Owens asked for a trial by jury. Owens’ was given a $20,000 personal recognizance bond, which was not opposed by the state’s attorney, assistant Attorney General Andrew Ritner.
Owens may not liquidate any personal assets valued over $500 as a condition of her bond. If convicted, Owens could face up to 10 years in prison.
Ritner noted for the court that chief counsel for the state would be senior assistant deputy Attorney General Creighton Waters. Billy Garrett represented Owens Thursday.
The case was sent to the Attorney General by Eighth Circuit Solicitor David Stumbo due to the fact that it involves a law enforcement agency with which his office works closely and Stumbo employs a family member of Owens.
Owens was terminated from her position at GCSO in Feb. 2013 after an internal investigation revealed potential embezzlement. A lengthy State Law Enforcement Division investigation resulted in a grand jury indictment for Owens.
GCSO bank records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act Request show numerous checks written to various entities, including Miss South Carolina pageant, signed by Owens. There are also a number of purchases from GCSO accounts, including Victoria’s Secret, which are clearly not GCSO business. Based on the banking documents, as much as much as $250,000 or more could have been embezzled between Jan. 2009 when Owens was given the position and her termination in Feb. 2013.
Court records show Owens’ mortgage holder filed for foreclosure in April 2009. The foreclosure was canceled in Aug. 2009. Owen’s was again named as a defendant in a foreclosure action in February of this year, just weeks after her termination from GCSO.
Rumors about Owens alleged misuse of the funds swirled for more than two years before she was placed on administrative leave in Feb. 2013. She was terminated just days later when Sheriff Tony Davis called in SLED to investigate the matter.
Email traffic between county officials at the treasurer’s office, independent auditing firm Elliot Davis and Owens from 2009 show concern over excessively low balances in multiple GCSO accounts. The emails also show Owens delaying sending in documents required for the audit.
There is no timetable for when the case may come to trial.