UNION COUNTY — The arrest of a father and son for possession of moonshine, the vandalism of a church, and a news report about an $8 million deficit that didn’t exist made headlines in 2013.
Illegal alcohol, more commonly known as moonshine, has a long history, and in October it was demonstrated that the substance is definitely not a thing of the past.
During a press conference in front of the old county jail, Union County Sheriff David Taylor announced that James Wallace Harris, 51, and Manual Grady “Preach” Harris, 89, both of 208 Pasture Drive, Union, had been arrested and charged with possession of illegal liquor.
Taylor made the announcement while standing in front of two pickup trucks loaded with jugs of moonshine confiscated from the Harris residence that morning.
The Union County Narcotics Taskforce went to the Harris residence to serve a search warrant. The taskforce was looking for moonshine and ensuring search initially found three gallons in the refrigerator in the house. With that discovery the Harrises were placed under arrest and transported to jail.
The search then expanded to include the rest of their property which Taylor said was also covered by the warrant. He said deputies found 54 gallons of moonshine in a carport storage room and 197 gallons in a cattle barn.
Taylor said this amounted to a total of 254 gallons of moonshine, which he said was the largest amount of illegal alcohol seized in Union County. He said investigators estimated the moonshine seized from the Harris property sold for between $25 and $30 a gallon.
In addition to the moonshine, Taylor said investigators also seized $40,000 in cash.
When asked if investigators found a still during their search of the Harris property, Taylor said no they had not. He added that investigators were still trying to determine whether or not the Harrises made the moonshine themselves or bought it from someone else and were selling it.
In addition, Taylor said while it was obvious the operation had been going on for some time, investigators were still trying to determine the extent of the distribution of the moonshine.
Taylor said it was James Harris’ first offense which carried a minimum penalty of a $600 fine and six months in prison and Manual Harris’ second offense which carried a minimum penalty of a $1,500 fine or one year in prison.
In December, the Harrises pleaded guilty in General Sessions Court to possession of illegal liquor. James Harris was sentenced to six months suspended upon six months probation while Manual Harris was sentenced to two years suspended upon six months house arrest and electronic monitoring.
The judge also authorized the sheriff’s office to go on the Harris property during the six months to make sure no illegal activity is taking place.
One of the more distrubing stories of 2013 occurred in July when it was discovered that a church in the Buffalo community had been vandalized with racist and occult graffiti.
Buffalo United Methodist Church was hold Vacation Bible School the last week in July and when Rev. Ron Towery arrived at the church Tuesday morning he discovered the church had been targeted by vandals who had tore up Bibles, damaged furniture, spray painted swastikas, occult symbols such as pentagrams, and anti-christian messages on the walls of several rooms including the sanctuary.
The sheriff’s office launched what became a week-long investigation into the incident which ended in the arrest of two male juveniles. Taylor said the juveniles, ages 15 and 16, were arrested after turning themselves in at his office and were charged with malicious injury to a place of worship, burglary second-degree, and petit larceny. They were then processed transported to the S.C. Department of Juvenile Justice in Columbia. Both were given probation in the incident.
Even as the sheriff’s office was investigating the incident, Buffalo United Methodist was receiving an outpouring of support from the community. This included being allowed to hold the final days of its Vacation Bible School program at New Hope Baptist Church.
Support also came in the form of Scott Davis, owner of Davis Home Repair, and two of his employees donating their time to paint over the graffitti with paint donated by the Sherwin Williams Union store. Davis said he and his employees were volunteering to do this because “It felt like we needed to. It was the right thing to do, to help out.”
When contacted about his decision to donate the paint, Jack Lewis, manager of the Sherwin Williams store, would only say “God is good. That’s all I can say.”
Towery said the church had also received calls and cards of support as well as donations from the community.
After the teens were arrested and charged in the case, Towery thanked the sheriff’s office for its efforts.
“We do appreciate the excellent work by the Union County Sheriff’s Department and all they have done to reach closure on this,” Towery said.
In addition, Towery said that while the members of his church had been hurt by the vandalism they were nevertheless praying for the vandals. He reiterated this after the arrest of the two teens.
“We will as a church continue to pray for those two individuals and their families,” Towery said.
The Deficit That Wasn’t
One of the most curious stories of the year was a TV news report that Union County had an $8 million deficit.
At the end of November, Channel 7’s Gordon Dill reported that the county had overspent its fiscal 2012-2013 budget by a little more than $8.2 million.
This brought a response during the first week of December from Supervisor Tommy Sinclair who said that Dill’s report was based on information provided by the State Budget and Control Board website which showed Union County with expenditures totaling $25,218,320 in fiscal 2012-2013 but revenues of only $16,997,336, leaving a deficit of $8,220,984.
Sinclair said he didn’t learn about Dill’s report until Saturday while at the Carolina-Clemson game. He said when he got back to his office on Monday he learned Dill had called his office Wednesday afternoon for a comment. Sinclair said the secretary Dill spoke with told him he’d already left for the day. He said he’d left spend the Thanksgiving holiday with his family.
After returning to his office, Sinclair said he contacted Dill who provided him with a link to the information he’d based his report on. Sinclair said the information was part of the State Budget and Control Board’s report on municipal, county, and school district revenues and expenditures. He said he also contacted the outside firm that audits the county’s books every year and went over the report with them.
Sinclair said that after reviewing the information, he and the auditors determined the expenditures and deficit contained in the report were the result of a misplaced number in the “Land Purchase & Facility Construction” line item in the expenditures section. He said that the report states the county spent $7,094,939 on land purchases and the construction of facilities in fiscal 2012-2013 when in fact it spent only $709,939.
The information is provided by the auditing firm on behalf of the county using a form furnished by the State Budget and Control Board. Sinclair said in his discussions with them he was told by the auditing firm it appeared they had added the extra number by mistake while filling out the form.
Instead of being in deficit, Sinclair said that the county actually ended fiscal 2012-2013 with a surplus of $466,000.
When reached for comment, Dill said he’d spoken with Sinclair about the matter and would report his position on it. Dill said he wanted to give Sinclair air time to explain his position, adding that his statement about the extra digit would be reported in that night’s broadcast.
Editor Charles Warner can be reached at 864-427-1234, ext. 14, or by email at email@example.com.