Orangeburg County is suing the estate of its former sheriff, saying it wants the money he allegedly stole from the county before he died.
The county is also suing Larry Williams’ fiancée, Ivadella Walters, who it claims helped him take the money. It’s also suing South Carolina Federal Credit Union, where Walters was formerly employed.
Walters’ attorney, Carl B. Grant, said, “We would intend to deny all allegations of misconduct against Ms. Walters and vigorously defend her against them as well.”
While he was only recently hired to represent Walters in her personal capacity in the lawsuit, Grant said he expects to file a formal answer within the next few days.
Williams was serving his third term as sheriff when he died on Sept. 21, 2010, at Palmetto Health Richland at the age of 53. The cause of death was acute respiratory failure and septic shock, with other factors including chronic kidney disease and obesity, according to his death certificate.
Thousands turned out for his funeral, including more than 200 law enforcement officers and 25 sheriffs from around the state.
The new sheriff, Leroy Ravenell, sought an audit of the sheriff’s office. A county audit revealed the existence of 11 bank accounts containing a total of $222,382 that were not included in the county’s audited financial statements in previous years.
That led to a State Law Enforcement Division investigation into financial irregularities under Williams.
SLED spokesman Kathryn Richardson said Wednesday, “The investigation is continuing and it would not be appropriate to comment further.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office would neither confirm nor deny it is investigating the allegations, as is customary for the office.
In its lawsuit, the county claims Williams opened several bank accounts at S.C. Federal Credit Union without the consent of Orangeburg County officials, even though he used the county’s tax ID number.
He used the accounts for money Orangeburg County was reimbursed for participating in law enforcement task forces with state and federal agencies, the county said.
Walters worked full-time at the credit union, but she also worked full-time at the Sheriff’s Office, the county claims. It alleges she helped create and service the accounts.
Williams “secretly deposited” money in the accounts, and used them for personal purchases, the lawsuit says. It also alleges Walters used the money for personal gain.
The two allegedly stole $62,019 from the accounts in 2009 to help pay off a loan they took out on a used, 1998 Discovery 36T recreational vehicle, according to the lawsuit.
Afterward, they changed the vehicle’s title to reflect Orangeburg County owned the RV. But Orangeburg County says it didn’t know about the vehicle and didn’t accept the title.
After Williams died, “an anonymous person or persons placed the RV on county property; however, the county did not authorize the purchase or placement of the RV and has no public use for the RV,” according to a separate filing the county made in probate court.
Orangeburg County isn’t sure how much it might have lost overall.
On July 20, 2011, Orangeburg County attorney D’Anne Haydel informed the probate court that forensic accounting had revealed Williams used approximately $28,298 for his personal benefit or without known connection to any public purpose. But she said more research was needed.
The county claims the credit union did not take steps to protect the public’s money when it learned of Walters’ relationship with Williams.
South Carolina Federal Credit Union Vice President for Corporate Communications Jessica Jackson did not return calls Wednesday afternoon.
Orangeburg County has also asked for Walters to be removed as personal representative for Williams’ estate because of the lawsuit.
The county claims if Walters remains over the estate, she will be in a position to keep what the county sees as its share of the money.
It is also seeking a temporary restraining order to prevent Walters from using assets from the sheriff’s estate.
On Sept. 7, 2011, Allendale County Probate Judge Brenda Bennett was appointed to oversee the estate after Orangeburg County Probate Judge Pandora Jones-Glover asked to not oversee the case because of her affiliation with Orangeburg County.
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