Former Beaufort County Clerk of Court Elizabeth Smith will not serve any time in prison for misusing federal child-support enforcement funds, a judge ruled Thursday.
Instead, she will serve six months of house arrest followed by two years of probation.
Smith, 47, appeared before federal District Judge Sol Blatt in Charleston for a sentencing hearing after pleading guilty in March to one count of conversion of public money for writing five unauthorized checks worth $338,500 in federal child-support funds. The money was used to pay her husband's salary while he oversaw the Beaufort County Drug Court between January 2006 and June 2009, prosecutors claimed.
Prosecutors had recommended Smith serve a short prison sentence, federal prosecutor Winston Holiday said.
"The judge varied downward, citing the fact that Ms. Smith had already paid back $68,500, had suffered professionally ... and had two elderly parents in failing health to care for," Holliday said. "It was certainly less than what the sentencing guidelines set forth. They recommended she be put in prison for a short time, and we agreed with those guidelines."
The charge carried a possible penalty of up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, according to federal law.
Blatt's sentence likely signals the end of a legal saga for Smith that began more than two years ago when she was indicted by a Beaufort County grand jury for writing checks worth $23,500 to help pay for insurance premiums and a vacation home on Pawleys Island.
A Beaufort County jury found Smith guilty in September 2010 of embezzlement of public funds and misconduct in office, and she was sentenced to five years of probation and 200 hours of community service.
The day after she was convicted in state court, Smith was charged by the U.S. Attorney's Office with conversion of public money.
Attempts to reach Smith on Thursday were unsuccessful.
Follow reporter Patrick Donohue at twitter.com/ProtectServeBft.