A former clerk in Ridgeland's water and sewer department was sentenced to five years in prison and five years probation after a Jasper County jury found her guilty Wednesday of embezzling $118,000 in public funds.
Mandy Drew, 36, must also pay $118,036 in restitution to the town.
Drew's attorney, Hilton Head Island lawyer Don Colongeli , asked for leniency from 14th Circuit Court Judge Carmen Mullen following the verdict.
Colongeli said Drew made a poor decision, but should be shown mercy because of her sincerity and love for her family, particularly her 4- and 13-year-old children.
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Assistant 14th Circuit Court Solicitor Francine Norz asked that Drew receive the maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, arguing the she refused to cooperate with auditors and investigators from the S.C. Law Enforcement Division.
Mullen said she sympathized with Drew, saying it will be near impossible for the mother of two to find another job, but noted Drew embezzled "a great deal of money" for almost two years.
"It was a repeated choice," Mullen said. "It was not a one-time or couple-of-time offense or one poor decision made one day. It was a repeated bad decision."
Drew was suspended without pay in early February 2011 after a routine, year-end audit indicated the money was missing.
She was charged the next month after SLED investigators uncovered what town officials described as a scheme to exploit a loophole in accounting software.
Norz, who leads the Solicitor's Office white-collar crime division, said that between April 1, 2009, and Jan. 18, 2011, customer payments were backdated so they would be credited to accounts without showing up on daily reports. As a result, no one lost water or sewer service and daily accounts balanced. The payments were funneled into Drew's pockets, Norz said
Town officials were notified of the discrepancy in deposit dates by an auditor, and accounting records were later turned over to SLED, Norz said.
"The evidence, I think, was clear that this theft occurred and (Drew) was responsible," she said.
During the trial, Drew's attorney offered no motive for the theft, according to Norz.
She said the town is insured against the loss, except for a $1,000 deductible, and will be reimbursed now that the case has been resolved. The town also has since closed the accounting loophole, she said.
"They have adopted the auditor's recommendations so that no one employee has this much control over both the collection and deposit (of water-service payments), and also run more frequent reports to verify what is posted to the computer on a daily basis ... is consistent with year-end numbers," she said.
"Ridgeland residents should be proud of the thorough job of town employees to catch this theft and not allowing it to continue," Norz said.
Town officials, Drew's husband and family members declined comment Wednesday. An attempt to reach Colongeli after the sentencing was unsuccessful.
Drew was taken into custody after her sentencing.
Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/ProtectServeBft.