ST. GEORGE — Former Dorchester County jail chief Arnold Ramos Pastor was indicted by a state grand jury Thursday, charged with one count of embezzlement of funds exceeding $5,000.
Forensic auditor Ron Wise estimated the total amount missing from the county jail account to be more than $360,000, said County Administrator Jason Ward.
Pastor's was the single indictment returned after a probe of Dorchester County Sheriff's Office jail finances that lasted eight months. No other indictments are expected according to the state Attorney
"I'm glad it's finally going to trial," County Council Chairman Larry Hargett said. "I'm very glad County Council had the oversight to order the audit. I hope it will be an example to everybody that there needs to be better oversight to protect public funds."
County officials received the draft report last week but have not released it, saying final revisions need to be made. A team of forensic audit specialists with Rachlin Cohen & Holtz has worked since August probing the Sheriff's Office finances because council members were concerned about the Sheriff's Office going over budget.
Council expanded the audit in December after auditors discovered tens of thousands of dollars missing from the jail fund, and suspected embezzlement. The more exhaustive probe was made partly to provide evidence for the State Law Enforcement Division as it investigated the missing money. The auditors also recommended that the county overhaul the control and oversight of jail funds.
The investigation "did not yield evidence to support any further charges, and none are expected," Attorney General Henry McMaster said in a news release.
Pastor, 44, of St. George, is a former captain who resigned in October after auditors discovered money had been diverted. If convicted, he could face up to 10 years in prison and a fine. Phone calls to Pastor on Thursday were not answered.
Sheriff Ray Nash called the indictment good news. "Certainly this was a huge violation of public trust," he said. "I'm glad this puts that to rest. There are people out there speculating that other people might be indicted."
McMaster's office would not discuss the case beyond issuing the indictment. Earlier findings by the auditors indicated more than 50 cash card withdrawals from jail accounts for amounts of $500 or more. They also found payments from jail fees to a cruise line and a cash card withdrawal from aboard ship on another cruise line, among a number of apparently improper or not fully accounted-for expenses.
The money came from inmate haircuts, medical charges, the commissary and a controversial $15 processing fee that prisoners were being charged as they entered the jail, Nash has said. Fees also came from a contract with a company providing collect calls for inmates and from charges for calls.
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.
The jail fees are among a number of politically charged budget controversies and disputes with council that have haunted Nash's two terms. He has announced he will not run for re-election this fall.
Nash said Thursday he was pleased that the grand jury moved so quickly; the forensic audit was just recently completed.
"You go through a range of emotions about these things. But justice needs to be served, that's first and foremost," he said.
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