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SC school official convicted of stealing has ‘Other People’s Money’ addiction, judge says

The former CFO for a South Carolina school district was sentenced to prison for embezzling money.
The former CFO for a South Carolina school district was sentenced to prison for embezzling money. Getty Images/iStockphoto

A man who was convicted of taking bribes and stealing more than $1 million from a South Carolina school district was admonished by the judge who delivered his prison sentence Wednesday.

While serving as Chief Financial Officer for the Berkeley County School District, Brantley Denmark Thomas III “stole at least $1.2 million of school district funds,” according to a news release from the office of U.S. Attorney Andrew Murray.

When Thomas was sentenced to 5-plus years (63 months) behind bars, U.S. District Judge David C. Norton said Thomas has an “OPM Addiction,” meaning the 61-year-old Charleston man is addicted to “Other People’s Money,” according to the news release.

In an embezzlement scheme “from at least 2010 to December 2016,” Thomas stole more than $1 million from the school district “for his own use,” which included “personal travel, jewelry and private club membership,” the prosecutor said in the news release.

The U.S. Attorney said one of the many ways Thomas embezzled money was by intentionally overpaying school district vendors, then taking the refund checks for his own purposes, according to the news release.

Court records show that in addition to the stolen funds, Thomas received “at least $32,000 in bribes and kickbacks” for providing millions of dollars of business from the school district to an insurance broker.

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Thomas pleaded guilty to 20 federal charges “involving embezzlement, money laundering and public corruption,” prosecutors said in the news release.

When Norton issued the prison sentence, which includes three years of court supervision following his release, the judge said Thomas’ crimes had a negative impact on Berkeley County students, according to the news release. The judge said his sentence was an effort to “protect the public from Thomas,” and to serve as deterrent for others.

Stealing from children to begin with is bad enough,” Berkeley County School District Superintendent Dr. Eddie Ingram said, according to a WCSC report. “But with children who require extra resources to get the quality services that they need to be productive citizens and to maximize their potential, it’s hard for me to put into words.”

Thomas has also been ordered to pay $1,232,106.08 in restitution to Berkeley County School District, prosecutors said in the news release.

This is not the end of the legal issues facing Thomas.

State charges have been filed and are still pending against the former CFO who was fired in 2017, WCIV reported. S.C. accused Thomas of stealing an additional $787,447 from the school district, and another $37,655 from an eyecare business where he worked after being dismissed by Berkeley County, according to the TV station.

Thomas was investigated by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division and FBI, but he was prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of North Carolina in Charlotte after the U.S. Attorney in S.C. recused their office from the case, according to the news release.

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Noah Feit is a Real Time reporter with The State and McClatchy Carolinas Regional Team. The award-winning journalist has worked for multiple newspapers since starting his career in 1999.