The SLED investigation into the alleged embezzlement of funds from the Greenwood County Sheriff’s Office remains ongoing more than six months after it began. Financial statements show that the total amount of money illegally used for personal purposes could be well in excess of $300,000.
The saga began when GwdToday first reported on Feb. 3 that Sandi McAllister Owens, an administrative assistant at GCSO hired on Jan. 5, 2009, had been suspended indefinitely for allegedly embezzling a large amount of money from GCSO. On Feb. 5, Sheriff Tony Davis issued a press release stating that Owens had been terminated from her position and that an independent accounting firm out of Mauldin would be looking into “certain financial matters pertaining to the Greenwood County Sheriff’s Office.”
The audit reportedly revealed that a significant amount of monies had been fraudulently taken from GCSO bank accounts, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the situation. GwdToday submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to acting county attorney Stephen Baggett Jr. for financial documents pertaining to GCSO, which was granted. Those financial documents show that as much as $346,939.14 could have been illegally embezzled from the Lakeland’s largest law enforcement agency.
At the center of the controversy are seven bank accounts. The bank accounts are the narcotics seized account, the narcotics forfeited account, the “one thousand” account, the sunshine account, the general account, the detention center Swanson account and the equitable sharing account.
The narcotics seized account is where monies seized in narcotics busts are held until the case is resolved. Once the case has been resolved, the money is distributed between the prosecuting agency (20 percent), the state (5 percent) and the law enforcement agency (75 percent). In this case, the prosecuting agency is the Eighth Circuit Solicitor’s Office and the law enforcement agency is GCSO.
The “one thousand” account is where the first $1,000 goes from the narcotics seized fund once a case has been resolved. There are no restrictions on what this money can be used for, as it pertains to the law enforcement agency. The law enforcement agency retains these funds for use at their discretion.
The narcotics forfeited account is where the rest of the money goes after narcotics cases are resolved after 25 percent is distributed to the Solicitor’s Office and state and the first $1,000 is separated. State law requires that these monies be separated and held by the law enforcement agency. State law also requires that the monies be used only in “matters relating to the prosecution of drug offenses and litigation of drug related matters.”
The sunshine account was established at GCSO for the purpose of funding morale-boosting expenses that could not be paid for with taxpayer money, such as Christmas parties. The sunshine account is funded by vending machine sales at GCSO. The machines were purchased by GCSO employees and stocked and maintained by GCSO employees. Stock is supposed to be purchased out of Sunshine account and proceeds put back into the account.
There is no clear indication of what the general account is used for or how it is funded.
The detention center Swanson account is an account intended to provide canteen items for indigent inmates at the Greenwood County Detention Center. A portion of each invoice paid to the vendor was remitted back to GCSO to fund this account.
The equitable sharing account is an account established for monies received from other law enforcement agencies as part of a drug task force. This account is funded by forfeiture money shared with another agency, such as the Greenwood Police Department in the case of the Greenwood County Drug Enforcement Unit.
There are a large number of questionable expenses in the financial documents. There is $59,217.61 in cash with withdrawals fairly equally split between the sunshine account and the general account, with some relatively small withdrawals made from the narcotics forfeited account and the Swanson account. There was also a large amount of money spent on catering with Powdersville-based Catering, Etc., a company that sources have said is owned by a relative of Owens. During Owens’ term of employment with GCSO there was $26,323.56 paid to the catering company.
In addition to numerous purchases at restaurants throughout the state, there are a large number of purchases at hotels across the country. The most noticeable hotel purchase is vacation package at the Disney Resort in Florida. Other hotel purchases include Pigeon Forge, Great Wolf Lodge, Myrtle Beach, Spartanburg, North Charleston, Columbia (one purchase at hotel in Columbia was I excess of $6,300), Florence, Hartsville, Atlanta and Lexington. There are also purchases from U.S. Airways in Phoeniz, Ariz., and New York, N.Y.
The financial documents showed an exorbitant amount of money spent on pageant-related expenses. The total of all apparent pageant-related expenses is $44,065.93. There was $29,501.85 paid directly to Miss South Carolina. That total includes a cashier’s check dated May 4, 2010, in the amount of $10,825. There was $11,548.50 paid directly to Miss America as well. There are many more payments to modeling services, photographers, dress makers and other pageant-related businesses.
There are purchases from a large number of local convenience stores and gas stations. There are also purchases from stores outside of Greenwood, including Victoria’s Secret, Haywood Mall, Ralph Lauren Outlet, Aeropostale and Bed, Bath and Beyond. There is also a large purchase from a jeweler in Florida.
Davis declined to comment in a statement received via email, saying that the State Law Enforcement Division has instructed him “that releasing any information about the investigation at this time would jeopardize the investigation.”
Email traffic between then-county treasurer Lisa White and accounting firm Elliot-Davis shows there was some concern over the balances in the accounts at GCSO as early as 2010. White questioned the account balance the forfeited account in an email to one of the Elliot-Davis auditors. White said the account balance was only $148, which seemed odd to her. The accounting firm said that records from GCSO matched bank confirmations of the balances, making the accounts materially accurate.
A spokesperson for SLED confirmed that the investigation into the finances remains ongoing and provided no timetable for its completion.