Four former Hardeeville officials pleaded not guilty to charges of misconduct in office, brought by the S.C. Attorney General's Office at an arraignment Monday at the Jasper County Courthouse.
Former treasurer Santesia Henderson, former Police Chief James Hubbard, former police Lt. Eric Washington and former Fire Chief John Ekaitis had personal recognizance bonds set at $50,000 each by Judge Perry Buckner.
Assistant Attorney General Megan Burchstead, who is prosecuting the cases, told Buckner the four are accused of taking thousands of dollars each between 2005 and 2006, primarily by violating the city's "leave-cashing" policy. She also said there is evidence of unauthorized bonuses.
A Jasper County grand jury indicted five former employees of the city last month after a five-year S.C. Law Enforcement Division investigation into Hardeeville's finances. The fifth indicted official, former city administrator R. Shane Haynes, will be arraigned next Monday at the Beaufort County Courthouse before Judge Carmen Mullen. He will be represented by defense attorney Jared Newman.
The SLED investigation began in 2008, when newly elected Mayor Bronco Bostick turned over results of a financial audit. It stated the city once had a policy that allowed employees to cash in unused sick and vacation days and that new limits on the policy had not been enforced.
It also showed bonuses were paid to employees that the city had not documented or authorized to receive them, according to Hardeeville City Council minutes.
All five of the former Hardeeville officials charged stopped working for the city by 2008.
Henderson and Washington now live in Texas. Ekaitis lives in Georgia, while Hubbard continues to reside in South Carolina. Burchstead agreed to the personal recognizance bonds, saying the indicted officials who live out of state are not a flight risk and have waived extradition for future court appearances.
Henderson and Washington are being represented by Cory Fleming of Moss, Kuhn & Fleming. Ekaitis is represented by attorney Jim Brown. Hubbard's attorney is Mike Macloskie.
After the hearing, Macloskie said Hubbard is innocent, and the defense "will wait for a trial to come about to prove just that."
The defendants and their attorneys all appeared at the same time before the judge. Macloskie said the defense attorneys will likely be sharing information because they are "all in the same boat."
The misconduct in office charge, a misdemeanor, carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
SLED has said the investigation is continuing.
To read The Beaufort Gazette and The Island Packet's previous coverage, click here.