Kiawah administrator resigns, ponders run for political office (copy) (copy)

Former Kiawah Island Administrator Tumiko Rucker. File

The former highest ranking employee of Kiawah Island has admitted to conspiring with another former official to defraud the town out of about $200,000.

Tumiko Rucker, the former town administrator who was employed for 10 years until her resignation in 2015, pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. 

The town's former treasurer, Harrison Kenneth Gunnells, pleaded guilty last month to the same count. The two face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. 

Assistant U.S. Attorney Rhett DeHart said Rucker and Gunnells had "complete control" over the town's finance department with little or no oversight when they carried out their scheme between 2011 and 2015, unbeknownst to the mayor and Town Council. 

Combined, the two received at least 16 additional monthly paychecks, from which Rucker pocketed more than $61,800, DeHart said. 

Rucker and Gunnells also gave themselves frequent payroll advances that constituted interest-free loans from the town. They repaid some of money, which was electronically deposited into their bank accounts. DeHart said $47,000 of the $77,000 that Rucker received in payroll advances remains unpaid. 

Additionally, Rucker used the town's credit cards to pay for airline tickets, car repairs and doctor's appointments totaling $7,500. 

The scheme was uncovered when a clerk in the finance department reported the suspected credit card misuse to a member of the Town Council. Officials then hired an independent accounting firm to investigate the allegations. 

Rucker and Gunnells submitted their resignations within weeks of each other in May 2015. In July of that year, then-Mayor Charles Lipuma announced the results of the audit that found the two longtime employees gave themselves unauthorized payments and took steps to cover their tracks.

They were indicted in November

Rucker, 43, on Thursday told U.S. District Judge Patrick Michael Duffy she reported to three different mayors during her employment with the town.

Mayor Craig Weaver, who took office after the allegations came to light, said town officials are glad Rucker and Gunnells have admitted guilt. He said the town is awaiting sentencing, for which a date has not yet been set. 

As part of their plea, Rucker and Gunnells have agreed to pay restitution. The amount will be determined at sentencing.

Lauren Williams, an attorney for Rucker, declined comment after Thursday's hearing.

Rucker also served as CEO of Sea Island Comprehensive Healthcare Corp., a Johns Island-based nonprofit that provides home health care, hospice care and other services to the island and surrounding communities. 

Rucker stepped down from her position at the nonprofit on Wednesday, said Althea Salters, board chairwoman.

Salters declined to discuss Rucker's departure, stating, "that is a personnel matter."

Gregory Yee contributed to this report.

Reach Angie Jackson at 843-937-5705. Follow her on Twitter at @angiejackson23

Angie Jackson covers crime and breaking news for The Post and Courier. She previously covered the same beat for the Grand Rapids Press and in Michigan. When she’s not reporting, Angie enjoys teaching yoga and exploring the outdoors.