Nearly four months after they were suspended from their jobs, two former employees of the Union County Magistrate’s Office have been arrested and charged with embezzling more than $10,000.
In a statement released late Friday afternoon, Union County Sheriff David Taylor announced that Allyson Shaw Ayers, 43, 108 Cane Creek Road, Union, and Sherry Fisher Johnson, 43, 2935 Buffalo-West Springs Highway, Buffalo, are each charged with one count of embezzling public funds and one count of misconduct in office. Taylor said that the two women are charged with embezzling more than $10,000 from accounts handled by the magistrate’s office.
Ayers and Johnson were arrested as a result of an investigation requested in January by Union County Chief Magistrate Jimmy Crocker and Assistant Chief Magistrate Jeff Bailey. The investigation was announced at that time by Union County Supervisor Tommy Sinclair who said Crocker and Bailey had become concerned about financial and accountability issues in their office. Sinclair said this in turn led the two magistrates to contact the SC Court Administration System which recommended an outside audit with SLED made aware of the situation. When he was made aware of this, Sinclair said he and Bailey, together with officials of the Court Administration engaged the services of an outside agency to conduct the audit, keeping law enforcement informed of the process. He said the initial results of the audit led to a request by the sheriff’s office for SLED to conduct a formal investigation.
Sinclair also announced that two employees of the magistrate’s office had been placed on suspension. At the time he declined to name the two employees citing the ongoing nature of the investigation. Authorities continued to decline to name the suspended employees because of the investigation which Taylor said Friday came to a conclusion this week when SLED presented its findings to Sixteenth Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett for review. Taylor said after reviewing the evidence collected by SLED, Brackett made the decision to have Ayers and Johnson indicted.
The warrants for Ayers and Johnson’s arrests were signed on Thursday by SLED agents before Circuit Judge Lee S. Alford of York. Taylor said both women turned themselves in at the Union County Jail where the two were booked, processed and charged. He said Ayers and Johnson were then each released on $10,000 bond.
No more arrests are expected in the case.
Since the investigation was announced, a number of changes have been made in the magistrate’s office beginning with a reduction in staff positions requested by Crocker and Bailey. The magistrates asked Union County Council to reduce the number of clerks in their office from three to two because the implementation of the Court Management System would enable their office to function with one less employee. They also said the reduction would save the county money through reduced personnel costs.
Council approved the requested reduction in staff and subsequently voted to require that any increase in the salaries of the office’s support staff could not exceed the savings realized by the reduction.
Earlier this week, council approved the county making good the state’s share of fines it was supposed to receive from the magistrate’s office. Sinclair said it is believed the money owed the state — which he said preliminary estimates placed at $30,000-40,000 — have been collected by the magistrate’s office and if that is determined to be so, the monies will be forwarded to the state. If they are not there, Sinclair said the county would use general funds to make it good and then seek to recoup it losses through insurance bonds.
In response to the arrests of Ayers and Johnson, Sinclair said Friday evening he hopes the county can put this behind it and move forward.
“I’m glad it’s behind us,” Sinclair said. “We just got absolute clearance from a follow-up on the clerk of court’s office and we have instituted several redundant means to ensure accountability throughout the courthouse and the county operations.”
Sinclair said he would elaborate on those measures once the 2012-2013 budget process is finished.