Brantley Thomas

Former Berkeley County School District CFO Brantley Thomas. File/Provided

Former Berkeley County Schools Finance Director Brantley Thomas was given house arrest during a Thursday hearing in state court in Columbia, two days after his hearing in federal court.

Thomas, 61, faces 14 counts of embezzlement and one count of forgery, according to state grand jury indictments unsealed Dec. 7.

He also was indicted on 20 federal counts of fraud, embezzlement, money laundering and wire fraud.

Starting in 2001, Thomas took more than $800,000 from the district, according to the indictments. Officials believe Thomas may have taken more than that, State Grand Jury Section Chief Attorney General Creighton Waters said Thursday.

Thomas faces up to 135 years in prison on the state charges. He was released on a $50,000 personal recognizance bond. 

Circuit Judge Jocelyn Newman said Thomas, who lives with his mother in downtown Charleston, can leave the house only for church, work, medical appointments and to visit his sick father in Cainhoy. He must stay home from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Waters said Thomas stole money from the district on Sept. 11, 2001, "while the rest of the nation was freaking out."

He was one of the highest paid employees in the district and he had retired and continued to work, allowing him to "double dip," Waters said. 

When the recession hit and the district cut its budget to the bone, Thomas continued to supplement his income with stolen money, Waters said. 

For instance, he used a $89,500 grant meant for special education students to purchase a lot in Tanner Plantation, and took other money to prepay his teenage daughter's college education, Waters said. 

Thomas' retirement fund, 401(k) savings account, daughter's college account and equity in his house will all go toward restitution, officials said. Thomas must pay $300 a month. So far, he has repaid more than $470,000, his lawyer said last week. 

On Tuesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Bristow Marchant allowed Thomas to remain free on a $50,000 unsecured bond on the federal charges. He was required to surrender his passport, may not leave the state without permission, and must attend counseling if it's deemed necessary.

The federal embezzlement charge and nine money laundering charges each carry a penalty of up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The 10 wire fraud charges each carry a penalty of up to 20 years and $250,000, according to Thomas' plea agreement.

Reach Brenda Rindge at 843-937-5713. Follow her on Twitter @brindge.