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Crime: Development office turnover uncovers missing $100K
By Jason Lesley
Georgetown County Administrator Sel Hemingway said he saw purchases that didn’t match documentation from the county economic development department while he was helping new director Brian Tucker get familiar with the county’s vendors and suppliers.
Those discrepancies led to the arrest of former county economic development director Wayne Gregory in Columbia this week on charges that he embezzled $100,000 using a county purchasing card. Gregory was the county director of economic development from 2005 until last August, when he took a similar post with the city of Columbia.
Gregory, 36, was taken into custody Tuesday morning in Columbia after officers from Georgetown County, the State Law Enforcement Division and city of Columbia searched his home. He was booked into the Georgetown County Detention Center at 6 p.m. on a charge of embezzling public funds. He was released after posting a $5,000 bond Wednesday morning.
“We were going through the transition with Brian Tucker coming on board and orienting him to sources and vendors,” Hemingway said. “In the process of contacting some of those folks, we realized that purchasers were different from what documentation we had.”
Hemingway said the discovery was made about six weeks ago. “We contacted the solicitor and everybody felt it was enough to move on,” he said. “They are continuing their investigation.”
Columbia city manager Teresa Wilson fired Gregory from his $110,000-a-year job after being notified of his arrest. She ordered a full review of her city’s economic development operations since Gregory’s arrival seven months ago.
Spokeswoman Carrie Cuthbertson said the Georgetown County Sheriff’s Office was notified by county officials suspecting fraudulent purchases. Cuthbertson said investigators found evidence that Gregory used his county purchasing card to misappropriate more than $100,000 for personal use. The maximum penalty for the crime is up to 10 years in prison, according to state law.
County spokeswoman Jackie Broach said the county administration is reviewing policies to control and authenticate transactions made with county purchasing cards. “We are also working with an external auditing service which will review these policies and offer advice on measures that can be taken to strengthen policies and prevent any future misuse of purchasing cards,” she said.
Tucker said county economic development has moved on from the Gregory regime. “We’ll let history take care of history and the courts take care of what happens,” he said. “As far as the story going forward, it’s no different from a week ago, a month ago, three months ago when I took over this position. It’s bringing jobs to Georgetown County and executing a plan to do that.”