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New information in KCSO embezzlement case

Posted: May 10, 2018 3:25 p.m.
Updated: May 11, 2018 1:00 a.m.
Provided by the KCDC/

Samantha "Sam" West Connell

New information is being revealed in the wake of embezzlement accusations made against Kershaw County Sheriff Jim Matthews’ former administrative assistant, Samantha “Sam” West Connell.

Tuesday, Kershaw County Administrator Vic Carpenter revealed Connell’s last date of employment was almost exactly two years ago: May 19, 2016.

Also on Tuesday, the Chronicle-Independent learned of a possible large payment the county made to Connell approximately five months later. A review of the county’s Transparency Spending Report for October 2016 shows a check made out to Connell for $22,150. The entry shows that the money was paid out of an account marked “Fuel.”

In addition, the county made out two smaller checks about two months after Connell left the sheriff’s office. Both checks, issued in June 2016 for a total of $220, were marked as “official fees.”

In an email late Tuesday afternoon, Carpenter said the $22,150 payment to Connell “was made as part of a severance package facilitated by the Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office [KCSO] to a former employee.” He said the funds were drawn from the KCSO fuel account because “the funds were available in that account pursuant to budget appropriations.”

The C-I followed up by asking how, generally speaking, severance packages are handled for county employees and whether or not the KCSO’s fuel account was reimbursed from another budget line to cover Connell’s severance.

In an email Wednesday afternoon, Carpenter’s only response was, “Samantha Connell was an employee of the sheriff’s office. Whether a severance package is offered, and the amount of a severance package, will always be based on the actual circumstances in question.” He did not address whether the fuel account was reimbursed.

In his email Tuesday, Carpenter said he did not have any direct knowledge about the earlier two checks, but believed they were likely reimbursements of some sort.

Also, Tuesday, the C-I contacted S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) spokesman Thom Berry about the wording of the agency’s warrant against Connell on May 4. The warrant states, in full:

“That between January 2015 and April 2016, in Kershaw County, Samantha Connell did commit the crime of Embezzlement of Public Funds while employed as an administrative assistant at the Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office. Based on the results of an audit conducted by Kershaw County, between January 2015 and April 2016, money was collected from registered sex offenders into the Kershaw County Sex Offender Registry fund; however, no deposits were made. The defendant, through a written statement, indicated she was solely responsible for the key to the drawer where funds were held until she deposited them. She further advised deposits were not made as they should have been to the Kershaw County Treasurer’s Office between July 2015 and May 2016. Based on witness statements and the defendant’s statements, the above information was corroborated.”

Note that Connell only “indicated” she held the sole key to the drawer where the money was kept and “advised” deposits to the treasurer’s office weren’t made during the time indicated. Nowhere in the warrant does Connell admit to any particular action. Nor is there anywhere in the warrant where SLED states that she admitted to converting the money to her own use, nor does SLED make that allegation itself.

When asked why SLED would arrest Connell and serve her with an embezzlement warrant that did not include such an allegation, Berry would only say, “That’s part of the ongoing investigation.”

Also, Berry declined to answer when the county audit was conducted, when the KCSO asked SLED to investigate the case or why it took two years after Connell left the KCSO to file charges against her.

The C-I contacted the 11th Circuit Solicitor’s Office in Lexington, which will be handling Connell’s case, in an effort to learn more about embezzlement charges and if they must include an allegation of conversion of funds to private use. The office has yet to respond.

The C-I also asked Connell via Facebook Messenger for a comment from either her or her attorney. She indicated she had passed the message to her attorney, Jack Swerling. The C-I contacted Swerling on Thursday morning, but he was unable to respond by deadline.

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