CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - The former Chief Financial Officer of the Berkeley County School District has been sentenced to more than five years for embezzling more than $1.2 million from them.
A federal judge Wednesday sentenced Brantley Thomas, who pleaded guilty to the charges in January 2018, to 63 months in prison on charges of embezzlement, money laundering, and public corruption. That works out to five years and three months.
Norton also ordered Thomas, 61, of Charleston, South Carolina, to serve three years under court supervision after he is released from prison, and to pay a total of $1,232,106.08 as restitution to the school district.
Thomas’s hearing was anything but standard with the proceeding not starting until forty minutes after it was set to begin. He was initially brought in, shackled and led by U.S. Marshals, and then was removed from the courthouse until twenty minutes after it was initially set to start.
Both the prosecution and defense asked for the judge to accept the highest recommended sentencing of 63 months.
Judge David Norton said Thomas’s offense was very serious and commented on Thomas’s apparent “OPM addiction,” referencing Thomas’s thefts of “other people’s money.”
“Stealing from children to begin with is bad enough," Berkeley County School District Superintendent Dr. Eddie Ingram said. "But with children who require extra resources to get the quality services that they need to be productive citizens and to maximize their potential, it’s hard for me to put into words. But the good news is it was a major step taken today and I look forward to, with a great team that we can move forward.”
Norton also told the courtroom that Thomas had 16 years of fraud, stealing, and cut services to kids in BCSD. He said those services had a negative effect on kids with special needs. Norton said this sentence would reflect that.
“The important thing is the victims showed up today," Berkeley County School District attorney Josh Whitley said. “We had eight principals, seven cabinet members, 25 folks from the district office, three trustees who came because the district has been severely impacted by the actions of Mr. Thomas and his theft.”
The federal sentence and state sentences will run consecutively, meaning the state sentence will start immediately after the federal is finished.
“What happened today was, as you know, there have been two sets of indictments, federal indictments for about $400,000 in theft and state indictments for twice that amount that are still pending in state court,” Whitley said. "What happened today was a resolution on the federal side work he received the maximum range for that amount of $400,000, which is 63 months in a federal prison. What’s the most important thing for the victims is that the judge sentenced the 63 months to be consecutive to the state charges which means when the state resolves the charges he will leave federal prison to then go serve whatever state sentence he gets, which we believe to be substantial.”
The sentencing on state charges is expected some time before summer, they say.
“He faces a larger amount and many more years on the state side,” Whitley said. "We ,the victims, do expect a substantial sentence.”
In January 2018, Thomas pleaded guilty to a total of twenty federal charges involving embezzlement, money laundering and public corruption. Thomas is currently in federal custody and will be transferred to the custody of the federal Bureau of Prisons, upon designation of a federal facility. All federal sentences are served without the possibility of parole.
The sentencing memorandum states that the guidelines for Thomas’ sentencing fall between 51 and 63 months, but the government will not give its own specific sentencing recommendation until the sentencing hearing Wednesday. Attorneys do state that the, “factors dictate a heavy sentence."
He was arrested again in September 2018 on charges that he allegedly stole $2,600 from a family friend. Attorney general’s spokesman Rob Kittle says Thomas was hired by the friend as a bookkeeper after he was fired by the school district. SLED agents say Thomas was entrusted by the Jackson Davenport Vision Center with bookkeeping and financial management duties when he endorsed two checks drawn on the company’s business account and used it to pay his personal credit card accounts.
A state grand jury had previously indicted Thomas on a total of 29 charges, including 27 charges for embezzlement totaling $665,842.98 and two charges of forgery in connection to allegations of corruption at the district.
Two of the charges state that Thomas allegedly converted public school funds to his personal use by causing BCSD to disperse funds which supposedly were to pay legitimate BCSD expenses.
The final charge for misconduct in office alleged that Thomas committed acts and omissions in breach of his duties as a financial officer and his duties as a public official of good faith, honesty, and accountability – “thus receiving $1,522,591.42 in compensation paid to him during the time period while he willfully and dishonestly failed to properly and faithfully discharge his duty to manage the finances of Berkeley County School District.”
The total amount alleged to have been embezzled in the new indictment was $119,604.11.