SUMMERVILLE — Less than three months after Anthony Britt officially took the reins of the St. George Police Department, he started depositing checks meant for the agency into his own bank account, according to court papers.
Since early November 2009, he cashed $14,161.50 in checks for his own use, the documents stated. It ended in early May when the town’s mayor noticed a misspent check and asked the State Law Enforcement Division to investigate.
The probe culminated with the police chief’s resignation last week and his arrest Tuesday on charges of embezzlement of more than $10,000 in public funds and misconduct in office.
The embezzlement count is a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. The misconduct charge is a misdemeanor that carries up to a year behind bars.
Britt turned himself in at a Summerville jail around 2 p.m. Tuesday, but a Dorchester County magistrate agreed to release him on his own recognizance.
The 45-year-old resident of Britt Green Road in St. George had served the town as an officer for six years in the 1990s until he was suspended from his post as a sergeant because of a 1999 investigation, the results of which remained unknown Tuesday.
He then landed a law enforcement job in Vance, where he later became that Orangeburg County town’s chief.
But in October 2008, he moved back to St. George, where he had graduated from high school in 1986. He became interim chief in April 2009 after his predecessor’s retirement and was hired to the full-time position that August.
SLED agents said in arrest affidavits that the checks, made out to the Police Department, started going missing Nov. 5, 2009.
The documents did not specify who had made the checks out to the town in the first place.
Britt had been entrusted to use the money for the public’s benefit, but the affidavits alleged that he instead signed his own name on the checks and deposited the funds into his own account.
The embezzlement, according to the documents, continued until May 6, when St. George Mayor Anne Johnston said she noticed that a single check hadn’t been properly deposited into a town account.
In a jail Tuesday, Britt stood in a hallway lined with cinder block walls. He wore a bright orange T-shirt under a striped collared shirt as he spoke few words during a bond hearing conducted by video conferencing.
Magistrate Katrina Patton asked Britt if he was aware of the nature of the criminal charges he faces.
“Yes, ma’am,” he said, his voice soft.
Family members — including his parents, his brother and his aunt — gripped each other’s hands tightly as they sat on wooden benches and watched Britt on a television screen.
His attorney, Donald McCune of Charleston, said Britt was “so knitted to the community” and argued for a low bail.
He’s a father of four, has no previous arrest history and has dedicated most of his working days to law enforcement, McCune said.
“Certainly, you are innocent until proven guilty,” the magistrate said, agreeing with McCune’s request.
Neither McCune nor Britt’s loved ones would comment after the proceeding.
The St. George mayor was listed as representing the victim in the case, but she did not attend the hearing.
Johnston has said she would conduct a nationwide search for a new chief, a process that could take four months. Britt had been promoted from within the ranks in 2009, when the town considered external candidates for a chief’s job that would pay about $43,000 yearly.
The mayor lamented the town police officers’ low pay and said she hoped Britt’s replacement could be afforded a larger salary and would not want for money.
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.