Florence County Sheriff Kenneth Boone pleaded guilty Wednesday to embezzlement and misconduct charges after prosecutors alleged he used federal narcotics funds to buy bicycle equipment, electronics, coolers, baseball gear and clothes.
S.C. Judge William McKinnon during Wednesday's hearing in Sumter County gave Boone a five-year suspended sentence, meaning the former longtime sheriff will avoid spending time behind bars. Boone also agreed to pay more than $16,000 in restitution, WPDE reported.
For Boone's plea to one count of embezzlement under $5,000 and one count of misconduct in office, McKinnon gave Boone five years' probation, which could be reduced to 18 months if Boone pays the money back and completes substance abuse and mental health treatment.
Charging documents said Boone spent at more than a dozen stores, including Rapid Weight Loss, Mainstream Boutique, Mast General Store, Dick’s Sporting Goods and GameStop. He also spent county funds at Carolina Supply House, Another Tint Shop, Leonard Aluminum and Sam’s Club, court documents showed.
The indictments didn’t describe how much public money was at stake, only that less than $10,000 was involved in each of the three counts. Additional indictments handed down in November alleged Boone failed to document campaign contributions and converted some of the money for his own use.
Boone's lawyer, Columbia attorney Butch Bowers, didn't return a message left at his office Wednesday.
Boone is among 14 Palmetto State sheriffs accused of breaking the laws they swore to uphold over the past decade.
He was also among those featured in “Above the Law,” a Post and Courier investigation in March that highlighted how South Carolina sheriffs have embezzled, bribed and dipped into public funds for everything from expensive chauffeurs to luxury hotels.
Boone has been Florence County’s sheriff since 2004 and is up for election in 2020. He's no stranger to controversy.
In October 2018, two law enforcement officers died and five were injured in a shootout near Florence that drew national attention. Boone asked the Richland County Sheriff’s Department to investigate instead of the State Law Enforcement Division.
In response, South Carolina lawmakers introduced a bill requiring SLED to investigate all officer-involved shootings. That prompted Boone to tell reporters in January: “I am not corrupt. I strive hard to make the proper decisions for the citizens that elected me to make those decisions.”
Last year, Boone also had a run-in with Florence County officials over conference expenses, a conflict first reported by the news and opinion blog FitsNews.
In that incident, Boone tried to put three rooms on the county’s tab — two rooms for himself and a third for Barnes (now the interim sheriff). When the county finance director, Kevin Yokim, asked for an explanation, Boone fired back an email: “I don’t have to get permission from you for anything that I do. ... Don’t question me again.”
Yokim answered that he had to “ensure that county funds are expended for a valid public purpose.”
Boone then left a voicemail threatening to send a deputy to Yokim’s house “to find your ass!”
Boone eventually joined his sheriff colleagues at the Myrtle Beach conference. Receipts show a $2,364.53 charge for his six-night stay. The attorney general declined to prosecute Boone in connection with that incident.