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Sheriff provides timeline in Connell case

C-I FOIAs county on severance packages

Posted: May 14, 2018 4:22 p.m.
Updated: May 15, 2018 1:00 a.m.
C-I file photo/

Samantha "Sam" West Connell

Kershaw County Sheriff Jim Matthews has provided a timeline regarding the investigation leading S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) agents to charge his former administrative assistant with embezzlement on May 3.

During an interview Friday, Matthews said Samantha “Sam” West Connell submitted her letter of intent to resign on April 19, 2016. Matthews said Connell’s last day on the job was exactly a month later, May 19, 2016.

From that point, here is what Matthews said happened:

• July 18, 2016 -- two months after Connell leaves the sheriff’s office, Matthews hires current Deputy Chief Jack Rushing, who is now a candidate to replace him as sheriff.

• Dec. 2016/Jan. 2017 -- five months later, Rushing and Matthews’ current administrative assistant conduct a line-by-line review of the office’s budget. During that review, Rushing “finds a significant monetary discrepancy in the sex offender registry fund,” Matthews said.

• Feb. 2017 -- the Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) contacts Kershaw County Administrator Vic Carpenter and asks for an independent outside audit of the office’s finances.

• Feb. to March 2017 -- the independent firm conducts its audit. “The auditing firm made some recommendations to help prevent this from happening in the future,” Matthews said.

• March 2017 -- the KCSO notifies SLED that they think they have a “criminal problem,” as Matthews put it, and asks for an investigation.

• May 2017 -- SLED concludes its investigation (to the best of Matthews’ recollection) and turns its findings over to 5th Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson.

• April 2018 -- nearly a year after concluding its investigation, SLED asks for an update and is directed to the S.C. Attorney General’s Office, which tells SLED that the case has been referred to 11th Circuit Solicitor Samuel Richardson “Rick” Hubbard III, in Lexington.

• May 1, 2018 -- Hubbard instructs SLED to draw a warrant on Connell.

• May 3, 2018 -- SLED arrests Connell for embezzlement of public funds, value less than $10,000; she is booked at the Kershaw County Detention Center and then released on a $10,000 personal recognizance bond.

Connell is accused of embezzling money collected from registered sex offenders and meant to be deposited with the Kershaw County Treasurer’s Office in a sex offender registry fund.

According to Matthews, sex offenders pay $150 when they initially register and each time they re-register, which takes place annually. He said there are times when the sheriff’s office will work with an offender, due to their being indigent or some other reason, and create a payment plan. Once the $150 is collected, $50 goes to SLED while the county keeps the other $100.

“That money does not come back to the sheriff’s office,” Matthews said.

Going back to 2016, Matthews said Connell filed for unemployment benefits on June 17, 2016, one month after she left the sheriff’s office.

“Which we denied,” Matthews said Friday, “and in October 2016, she received (a) severance check for $22,000. That all happened at the county level. I had no input into that.”

That differs somewhat from what Carpenter told the Chronicle-Independent after being contacted about the payment to Connell.

“The $22,150 payment to Ms. Connell was made as part of a severance package facilitated by the (KCSO) to a former employee,” Carpenter said in a May 9 email.

The C-I had pointed out to Carpenter that the severance package was funded by an account marked “Fuel” on the county’s October 2016 Transparency Spending Report. He said the funds were drawn from the KCSO fuel account because that’s where the funds were available from “pursuant to budget appropriations.”

Matthews said that, to the best of his recollection, he learned the money for Connell’s severance package came out of his budget after the payment was made, but did not know it came out of the fuel account until last week.

On Friday, the C-I emailed a S.C. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to Carpenter asking for information on severance packages for county employees during the past 10 years, including Connell’s. Specifically, the C-I asked for the value of any severance packages; from what accounts the severance packages were funded; the job titles the employees held immediately prior to receiving the severance package and the department in which they worked; and whether or not those employees resigned or quit, were laid off or were fired.

Based on the S.C. FOIA, as amended in 2017, because the request could include documents more than 24 months old, the county has 20 working days from the day it received the request (Friday) to inform the C-I of its intentions to fulfill it. If it informs the C-I that it will fulfill the request, it must furnish those documents within 35 calendar days of the day it informs the C-I of its intent to do so.

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