COLUMBIA -- The former finance director of South Carolina's social services agency was sentenced Monday to 10 years in prison for stealing more than $5 million from the agency, money he has admitted to spending on strippers, alcohol and gambling.

"Never in a million years did I think I'd be standing here in this position today," Paul Timothy Moore, 61, said during his two-hour hearing in federal court in Columbia. "I let my negative actions over the course of four years erase all of the positive ones over the previous 16."

Moore, who had worked at the social services agency for 20 years, pleaded guilty in October to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and theft of government funds.

From 2004 to 2008, authorities say Moore and another man, Jonathan Moses, recruited hundreds of people, including strippers, to cash checks Moore had made out to them from agency funds, checks he marked "Process special. Return to Paul Moore." The recruits then cashed the checks at a variety of South Carolina banks, keeping some money from each transaction.

"He spent a good portion of it at strip clubs and nightclubs throughout the Columbia area," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Debbie Barbier, adding that Moore let some of the strippers keep all of the money from the checks they cashed. "There were a number of lives ruined because of this case. ... It was a very senseless crime."

Three of those women already have been prosecuted for their roles in the scheme, and the case of a fourth is pending, Barbier said.

In all, prosecutors say Moore requested about 750 checks cut from state Treasury Department funds, for about $7,000 each. Prosecutors have said none of the check cashers nor Moses worked for the Department of Social Services. Authorities learned about the scheme in October 2008, after one of the check cashers alerted the U.S. Secret Service.

So far, Moore, Moses and 50 others have been prosecuted, and prosecutors say more arrests are expected. In all, Barbier says authorities think the two men recruited more than 300 people to help embezzle the money, telling the check cashers that if anyone asked they should say the money was from grants or child support payments.

Last year, Moses was sentenced to eight years in prison after pleading guilty.

Moore had faced up to 30 years in prison and $500,000 in fines. Prosecutors and Moore's attorney had asked for a lighter sentence, citing Moore's role in helping federal authorities figure out how much money was missing from the agency's coffers and identify people who had cashed the fraudulent checks.

Seymour waived any fines but ordered Moore to pay nearly $5.5 million in restitution.

Moore, who said he was drinking heavily before his arrest, said Monday that he used alcohol as an "escape hatch" during difficult times in his life, including a divorce and death of his oldest daughter in 2003.

After his arrest in January 2009, Moore completed an alcohol treatment program. Seymour ordered him to undergo drug testing as part of his probation after he finishes serving his prison sentence.

"No one could have gotten a dollar without me," Moore said. "My prayer is, I don't want to cause anyone any pain, any more."