The recently ousted president of a nonprofit organization that has tried for years to build a dog park in Bluffton was charged Tuesday with stealing most of the group's money -- possibly tens of thousands of dollars, police say.
Bluffton resident William Grooms, 42, who until Thursday was the president of Friends of Bluffton Dog Parks, was charged with breach of trust of more than $10,000 after turning himself in.
The nonprofit's board called an emergency meeting last week after discovering its account had been depleted. It voted to remove Grooms as president and reported the missing money to the Bluffton Police Department, board member Abby Bird said.
Bluffton police Capt. Angela McCall-Tanner said it was "pretty obvious" to investigators that Grooms used his signing authority for the group's bank account to cash out more than $10,000 since last June. She added Grooms spent the money for "personal use" but would not elaborate.
Neither McCall-Tanner nor board members would say exactly how much Grooms is accused of taking.
Friends of Bluffton Dog Parks has estimated it would need $40,000 to build a dog park, and board members say they had almost reached that goal after a recent pledge drive.
Less than $100 remains in the group's account, McCall-Tanner said.
No one else has been linked to the theft, McCall-Tanner said. Grooms' wife, Amanda Mitchell-Grooms, the group's treasurer, did not have the authority to write checks, McCall-Tanner said. Mitchell-Grooms, who was also removed from the board at Thursday's emergency meeting, declined to comment.
The nonprofit has been trying to build a dog park in Bluffton since 2004.
"We were so close to making this project a reality," said Jennifer Megliore, a board member for more than seven years. "That's what makes this extra heartbreaking."
Grooms became president in 2011. Also that year, the town of Bluffton and Beaufort County signed an agreement with the organization to allow it to use 1.5 acres in Buckwalter Regional Park, nearly six years after the group began petitioning for space. The agreement states the Friends of Bluffton Dog Parks would have to raise the money to build and maintain the dog park on its own.
"One person has spoiled the dreams of the entire community," Bird said. None of the board members, nor newly elected president Charles Bumgardner could say what the group will do next.
Grooms' bond hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. today at the Beaufort County Detention Center. The 14th Judicial Circuit Solicitor's Office said Friday afternoon that Grooms did not yet have a lawyer.
If convicted, Grooms could face up to 10 years in prison, a fine to be determined by the judge or both, McCall-Tanner said.
- Beaufort, Bluffton vie for as much as $100,000 to build dog parks, May 21, 2013
- Bluffton finalist in contest to win dog park grant, July 13, 2012
- Group secures 1.5 acres for proposed Bluffton dog park, May 18, 2011
- Will your pup have a new place to play in Bluffton? June 5, 2008
- Supporters optimistic dog park within reach, May 2, 2006