Deputies arrest man accused of robbing KFC

Jeffrey Knowles

A former Beaufort County clerk of court used her trusted position to embezzle $68,500 from child support enforcement accounts.

Elizabeth Mason Smith, 48, will spend six months on home confinement, then two years under supervised release for her crime, a federal court judge ruled Thursday in Charleston. Smith pleaded guilty to conversion of public money in April and faced a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

U.S. District Court Judge Sol Blatt Jr. did not order Smith to pay restitution, because she already returned the money she took. Smith worked as clerk of court from 2000 until she resigned amidst the investigation in 2009.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Winston Holliday Jr. said Blatt granted Smith a lighter sentence because she helps care for her mother-in-law, who suffers from dementia, and because of Smith's own psychiatric problems.

A letter from her psychiatrist says Smith suffers from bipolar affective disorder. The letter details Smith's symptoms, including trouble sleeping and unusual thoughts.

"It is very likely that her poor judgment regarding her financial decisions also was a by-product of her bipolar affective disorder," the doctor wrote, pointing out Smith's failed attempt at medical school and her alcoholism. "It is tragic to see the impact of undiagnosed mental illness on a brilliant woman."

Reach Allyson Bird at 937-5594 or on Twitter at @allysonjbird.