KINGSTREE, S.C. (WCSC) - A five-month long audit and financial investigation of the Williamsburg County Transit System (WCTS) uncovered alleged misspending from inflated employee pay to mysterious gift cards.
The county department provides transportation that many citizens rely on to get to work, school and medical appointments in the rural county. The department is now under fire for serious possible misuse of taxpayer money.
“The taxpayers should be concerned about it. These are taxpayer’s dollars,” said Dr. Tiffany Wright, Williamsburg County’s supervisor who took office a year ago.
She was elected after running on a platform of rooting problems in county government, but even she was surprised by just how much was uncovered so far.
“If you work under county government, you have responsibility not only to myself but to the citizens as well,” she told Live 5’s Carter Coyle in an interview Friday.
Last year, county employees blew the whistle on back-pay issues within WCTS. Even the federal Department of Labor was involved, and Dr. Wright’s staff spent weeks reviewing pay records to correct the problems.
But, she said, they quickly realized the problems were much deeper and more systemic.
They hired CPA Janet Hicks to perform a thorough audit of WCTS. Hicks presented her preliminary findings to County Council Tuesday.
Hicks said WCTS leaders were uncooperative and that she discovered the agency was shrouded in secrecy.
Though the department is funded by the county and is supposed to be overseen by the county, Hicks said it has been acting “almost like an autonomous entity” with no regard to county policy. It even had it’s own IT contract and system that county IT officials couldn’t access during the audit process.
Hicks highlighted the following specific concerns:
- Improper payroll records and timekeeping, including a driver who was paid an “astronomical amount of overtime” yet was also paid back-pay after the DOL investigation.
- Improper inventory records which have led to incorrect financial statements and likely inaccurate previous audits.
- Improper protection and custody of assets, such as the buying and selling of vehicles without proper documentation or policy-keeping. Also including discovery of “dozens” of SCDOT tags that had not been turned back into the state and could result in “substantial fines.”
- Improper fringe benefits, including the purchase of gift cards for $50 to $500 totaling more than $10,000, half of which are now unaccounted for, violating county policy and IRS rules.
- Improper Reimbursement without approval or documentation, specifically connected to former Director Mihcael Burgess and former Assistant Director Diana White.
Hicks said most concerning to her was the “lack of oversight allowed by the former county supervisor, transportation advisory board and county council in respect to financial affairs.”
She also realized there were cell phones being paid for by the county but used by people who were not employed by WCTS or the county. The Transportation Board members are county council members.
“So are you concerned this wasn’t caught sooner?” Coyle asked Dr. Wright.
“It is a concern,” she replied.
Former Transit Director Michael Burgess was placed on paid leave during the investigation but has now been allowed to retire.
“Just because he retired- it’s not over yet," Dr. Wright said,"We still have an investigation that is open. Once the written report is completed, we’ll take the next steps from there.”
That could “absolutely” include turning over evidence to law enforcement if investigation of criminal wrongdoing is necessary, she said.
Assistant Transit Director Diana White was fired in December for reasons unrelated to this specific investigation, said Dr. Wright.
That driver Hicks referenced who had an “astronomical” amount overtime was terminated this week. He or she was not named.
“I’ve used the transit system to get to work - to get to my appointments,” said Jawaun Swinton, who uses the county transit system all the time and is shocked to hear what the audit revealed.
“I want to know that my tax dollars are used in the right places. They take a lot of taxes out,” he said. “I’m just thankful they’re trying to get everything settled. It’s very upsetting.
Dr. Wright hopes her message is loud and clear: “If you think you're coming to Williamsburg County to do wrong and not get caught, you're incorrect. You might as well go somewhere else.”
Hicks will continue her transit investigation and develop a formal report.
Dr. Wright said she plans to have every department thoroughly reviewed and audited, including the county alcohol bureau, grants department and economic development authority. She wants a review of the General Fund that she oversees, too.
To see Hicks’ full statement to County Council visit The News-Kingstree on Facebook. Michaele Duke gave Live 5 News permission to use and share the organization’s video from Tuesday’s meeting.
The county also posted video on Facebook of the Council meeting.