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Courts: After guilty pleas, former economic director sues lawyer

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

The former Georgetown County economic development director who pleaded guilty to embezzlement last year has filed suit against his lawyer claiming he had ineffective representation.

Wayne Gregory, 39, was arrested in April 2014 on charges that he used public funds to buy prepaid gift cards that he redeemed for himself. He tried to cover up the purchases as legitimate expenses, according to the arrest warrant.

Gregory was also charged by the state Department of Revenue with tax evasion for filing false information with the agency. He pleaded guilty to both charges.

Gregory was sentenced last October to eight years in prison for embezzlement and five years for tax evasion, to run concurrently, suspended to six months house arrest and five years probation. He was also required to make restitution. Georgetown County officials estimated at the time of his arrest that Gregory embezzled over $194,000.

In a suit filed last week against his former attorney, John Hilliard, Gregory says the money wasn’t “tax money.” It belonged to Santee Cooper, the state-owned utility that is a partner in county economic development projects.

“All of the money that was misspent in my case was from Santee Cooper,” Gregory says. “My new lawyer says that makes a huge difference because not one penny came from taxpayers.”

Gregory is representing himself in the suit, which alleges malpractice by Hilliard. He says Hilliard failed to tell anyone of the source of the funds, which Gregory claims led to additional charges.

“Hilliard did no work on my case, which only made matters worse for me,” Gregory says in his complaint.

Hilliard could not be reached for comment this week.

Gregory was employed by Georgetown County as economic development director from 2005 until September 2013. He left Georgetown County to become economic development director for the city of Columbia.

The embezzlement began in January 2010 and continued until he left, according to the arrest warrant.

The Department of Revenue said Gregory evaded payment of $13,172 in state income tax for years 2010 through 2013 and evaded property taxes in the amount of $17,172 from 2006 through 2013.

According to Gregory’s civil suit, Hilliard didn’t tell the state Attorney General’s Office that he refiled his taxes or paid the money back to Georgetown County. “Their case against me for not paying taxes on stolen money was strengthened by Hilliard’s ineptitude and complete lack of effort,” Gregory says.

After his sentencing, a lien was placed on Gregory’s state retirement account to repay Georgetown County $71,412, according to court records.

Gregory said his convictions have left him unable to earn a living. A court order last month shows he was unable to pay $128.75 in fines at the rate of $20 a month. He was exempted from future fees.

He says in his complaint he first met Hilliard at the jail and paid him $30,000. Court records show Gregory had no attorney at his bond hearing.

Gregory says Hilliard wanted $50,000 and wanted him to plead guilty. “The sad thing is he never did any work on my case and had no clue what to do,” he says in his complaint. He changed attorneys in December 2015 and was represented by Scott Joye.

Gregory is seeking $750,000 from Hilliard.

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