Widow still faces 1 accessory charge in Bluffton dog-group theft

bheffernan@islandpacket.comJuly 19, 2013 

One accessory charge was dropped, but another still stands against the widow of a man accused of embezzling more than $10,000 from the Friends of Bluffton Dog Parks, a Beaufort magistrate ruled Friday.

The 14th Circuit Solicitor's Office said it plans to present a charge of accessory after the crime against Amanda Mitchell-Grooms, 36, to a Beaufort County grand jury on July 25. A conviction on the felony charge could carry a sentence of up to five years in prison.

A charge of accessory before the crime was dropped.

Mitchell-Grooms served as the dog group's treasurer when the money allegedly was stolen by her husband, William Grooms.

She did not attend Friday's hearing.

Grooms, 42, who was ousted as president of the group after being accused of stealing from it, had been charged with breach of trust. He committed suicide Sunday at the couple's home in Bluffton.

Investigators found a note in Grooms' wallet addressed to police that said his wife was not involved in the theft, Bluffton police Capt. Angela McCall-Tanner said at Friday's hearing.

Grooms allegedly began stealing the money in June 2012, the same month Mitchell-Grooms volunteered to become treasurer and a month after the couple married, according to a Bluffton police report.

"He did not start stealing funds until she volunteered to become treasurer," McCall-Tanner said. That circumstantial evidence was a factor in Mitchell-Grooms' arrest by Bluffton police on June 25, she said.

Grooms, who was arrested June 11, used the money to pay his gambling debts and a $1,300 rent payment for the couple's home, McCall-Tanner said.

Mitchell-Grooms told police she did not know her husband was stealing.

Last month, she agreed to take a polygraph test but didn't show up for it, according to the police report. She told police the day it was scheduled that she decided not to take it "because she felt like she was going to be 'set up,' " the report said.

While she was treasurer, Mitchell-Grooms gave several inaccurate estimates to the board of how much money the group had in a bank account, McCall-Tanner said.

Grooms told police the day he was arrested that he had stolen about $19,000 between June 2012 and June 2013.

Mitchell-Grooms never provided bank statements to the board, which had repeatedly asked for them, claiming she was having trouble accessing the account information, McCall-Tanner said.

What estimates she provided were based on personal records she kept of the group's finances, Mitchell-Grooms told police.

"But for her being treasurer, he would not have been able to pull this off because another treasurer would have noticed and would have brought statements to the board," McCall-Tanner said.

Sam Bauer, Mitchell-Grooms' lawyer, said that does not mean she knew a crime was being committed.

"The fact that she was the treasurer allowed the crime to go undiscovered for some time, but that means she's a bad treasurer," he said during the hearing. "It doesn't prove knowledge."

However, Magistrate Nancy Sadler ruled that there was enough probable cause for the charge of accessory after the crime to go before a grand jury. The grand jury would determine whether there is enough evidence for the case to go to trial.

Bauer said outside the courtroom that Mitchell-Grooms maintains her innocence.

"We're confident in the judicial process," he said.

Mitchell-Grooms is free on her own recognizance.

Follow reporter Brian Heffernan at twitter.com/IPBG_Brian

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