Former mayor suspected of diverting 2 million gallons of town water

Former Ehrhardt Police Chief and Norway Mayor Jim Preacher
Former Ehrhardt Police Chief and Norway Mayor Jim Preacher

By Jody Barr - bio | email

NORWAY, SC (WIS) - Agents with the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division asked former Norway Mayor Jim Preacher to start a dig on his property Wednesday, looking for leads in an investigation into millions of gallons of missing town water. An audit of Norway's water system last month turned up more than 1.8 million unaccounted gallons of water, according to town records.

Sources close to the investigation said agents are looking for water lines on Preacher's property that could be hooked into the town's water system, bypassing the town's water meters. The lines, according to sources, are believed to be used to fill a fishing pond in Preacher's backyard. Preacher confirmed the information after a SLED agent left Preacher's home Wednesday morning.

Investigators collected sworn, notarized statements from several people associated with Preacher who told investigators they witnessed Preacher using a water system to fill his pond. One statement came from a man who said Preacher paid him to install at least one water line that Preacher used to fill his pond.

Another sworn statement came from Jim Evans, a current Springfield police officer, who once worked with Preacher in Norway, according to Preacher. In Evans' statement, he told SLED agents that Preacher had him turn on a valve to fill his pond, a valve that bypassed a town meter, according to Preacher.

Norway mayor Cindy Williams performed the audit at the end of June after records showed 51 percent of the gallons used in May did not flow through the town's meters. Records showed the town figured in two small leaks in the system, but Williams said the leaks were not significant enough to explain the 2 million gallon loss.

After the water shortage and audit process became public in June, Preacher contacted town officials and reported that Norway Councilman Gregg Covington had stolen water from a Norway fire hydrant. Preacher said Covington used the hydrant to fill "nurse tanks" used to water crops. Covington owns the largest cotton farm in Orangeburg County. The hydrant, Preacher said, was located near a field Covington owns. The field is only yards away from Preacher's Cope Road home.

Norway town council sent SLED a letter June 29 asking for an investigation into Preacher's accusations. In the letter, the council writes that the allegations against Covington were investigated by the town, and were unfounded. In the letter, the council asked SLED director Reggie Lloyd to keep Agent Roger Heaton away from the investigation because "he is a friend of Jim Preacher."

Preacher was sworn in as Norway's mayor in February. Preacher was also police chief in nearby Ehrhardt, but after two hours in office, Preacher resigned as mayor after Attorney General Henry McMaster told Preacher he was likely violating of the state's "dual office holding" law. Preacher spent his time as mayor blasting fellow Covington at a meeting that night. Covington filed a report of harassment and intimidation after the meeting with Orangeburg County deputies. The claims were "unfounded," according to the report.

Trouble between Covington and Preacher, once admitted friends, has heated over the past several months. Since November, Covington filed seven police reports with Orangeburg County deputies. The reports include harassment and unlawful use of the telephone.

In follow-up investigations, deputies presented Covington's complaints to Orangeburg Magistrate Samuel Daily. Daily did not find probable cause to issue a warrant in the case, but did put Preacher on a "no trespass" notice, according to a police report.

Agents spent an hour with Preacher on Wednesday, investigating the claims. Preacher said an agent asked for permission to dig up water lines on his property, a request Preacher said he granted.

There's no word on when agents plan to start gathering evidence on Preacher's property.

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