Jail funds might have been stolen

Dorchester County Sheriff Ray Nash discusses an investigation concerning money missing from the jail fund. The loss was 'significant,' Nash said.

Audit reveals missing money; SLED investigation under way

SUMMERVILLE — An audit that Dorchester County Sheriff Ray Nash once described as a political "witch hunt" has discovered that tens of thousands of dollars might have been stolen from the jail, including money brought in by the sheriff's controversial $15 processing fee.

"I don't know how much," Nash said at a news conference he held Wed- nesday outside his office. "The loss here is significant."

An auditor hired by County Council to figure out why Nash consistently goes over budget found the problem last week. It was kept quiet until Wednesday while the State Law Enforcement Division and the Solicitor's Office investigated, Nash said.

Capt. Arnold Pastor, who was Nash's jail chief, resigned Friday after being confronted with the discrepancy, Nash said. No charges have been filed as the investigation continues, SLED Special Agent Bobbi Schlatterer said.

The money was intended for the jail fund but was deposited into another account that had been set up, Nash said.

Pastor does not have a listed phone number and did not return a message left with the Sheriff's Office.

The money came from inmate haircuts, medical charges, the commissary and a $15 processing fee that prisoners were being charged as they entered the jail, Nash said. The money was not part of the regular budget. It was supposed to be used for special events for inmates, such as special food on the Fourth of July and a banquet to thank volunteers at the jail, but it also could be used to make up shortfalls in the general budget, Nash said.

Nash quit charging inmates the $15 processing fee in October after council sent him an opinion by S.C. Attorney General Henry McMaster saying it might not be legal. Nash said he doesn't think McMaster's interpretation applies to his situation and wants another opinion.

It will take months to figure out how much money is missing, Nash said.

"As sheriff, I take full responsibility for the lack of internal controls that allowed this to take place," Nash said.

He and Pastor had worked together for about 10 years. Nash said he considered Pastor a trusted friend and gave him full oversight over the jail funds.

"There was too much control placed in one man," Nash said, promising changes. "We're digging deep into our internal practices."

The problem came to light because County Council called in an outside auditor to find out why Nash has been overspending his budget the past several years.

"Although I am extremely disappointed in the actions of my deputy, I am grateful that the audit has brought this matter to light," Nash said.

Council Chairman Larry Hargett praised Nash for calling in SLED as soon as he was aware of a problem. "I am very proud of our sheriff," Hargett said.

Councilman Chris Murphy, who called for the audit, had a different reaction. He noted that Nash called the audit a "witch hunt" for political purposes and that Nash said he would cooperate only as much as he had to.

"I, for one, find it incredulous that the sheriff can stand there at a press conference and state how he has cooperated with everybody when he has fought us at every turn," Murphy said. "If County Council had not voted for this audit, it would never have been discovered. The fact of the matter is there are no checks and balances in place at the sheriff's department. I think the taxpayers in Dorchester County deserve the answers."

Murphy said he would urge council to expand the audit as much as necessary to find any more problems. Council authorized up to $35,000 for an audit covering the past two years. It's being conducted by Rachlin Cohen and Holtz of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., which specializes in auditing law enforcement agencies.

Murphy also said he will push to include all the Sheriff's Office's funds in the regular budget and procurement process.