BCSD announces embezzlement and settlement recoveries in excess of $2.2 million, plans to invest in special services for children
Published Thursday, May 2, 2019
BCSD Director of Special Services Kelly Wulf and those in attendance at the April 30, 2019 Berkeley County Board of Education Meeting celebrate after hearing money reclaimed from the embezzlement schemes of Brantley Thomas would benefit special services programs. (BCSD photo)
At the Tuesday, April 30 board meeting, Berkeley County School District announced recoveries in excess of $2.2 million in the wake of the largest public embezzlement in state history. In addition, BCSD also announced plans for some of the reclaimed funds.
During a briefing from Statewide Grand Jury Chief Creighton Waters on restitution orders received in favor of the school district, the Berkeley County Board of Education approved a settlement of $822,966.47 with Hilltop Securities, Inc.
Hilltop Securities has never served as a vendor to Berkeley County School District (BCSD) but acquired a firm that served as the district’s financial advisors from 2012 to 2014. The lawsuit, which was filed on March 4, 2019, seeks significant damages against individual financial advisors and bond counsel, as well as their firms.
BCSD board members immediately agreed that $400,000 of recoveries should and will be granted to the programs convicted former CFO Brantley Thomas damaged the most.
Plans will be put in motion to utilize $300,000 and improve long-needed special needs accessibility at school playgrounds. The other $100,000 will be used to help construct the Miracle League field at the Moncks Corner Regional Recreation Complex.
In response to the investment to benefit children with special needs, BCSD Interim Chief Academic Officer and Executive Director of Special Services Dr. Kelly Wulf said, “Playgrounds are an extension of the learning environment essential for social/emotional, physical, and gross/fine motor development that all students should be able to access. Everyone deserves to experience the joy of a swing or the friendships that emerge from playground partners. We appreciate that our board made the immediate decision tonight to support the needs of our children.”
BCSD is also set to receive $939,654.94 from the state restitution order, including receiving an assignment of Mr. Thomas’ retirement account. Additionally, the federal court ordered $761,828.80 in restitution paid to the district.
After reviewing the complaint, Hilltop met with the district’s legal team and worked swiftly to disgorge all of the fees earned by its acquired firm during that period.
School Board Chairwoman Sally Wofford thanked Hilltop for quick action and encouraged all defendants to do the honorable thing and immediately reimburse the district, without further litigation. Further, if these defendants choose not to, she directed legal counsel to continue, “To pursue all claims with the same vigilance that has resulted in guilty pleas for crimes committed against our district and our children.”
Brantley Thomas was charged and pleaded guilty to embezzlement of approximately $1.4 million and to receiving kickbacks from a district vendor. A financial investigation revealed he not only stole more than $1 million, but that he misappropriated and misspent tens of millions of taxpayer funds. The district’s lawsuits allege that various vendors and professionals assisted or neglected their duties in allowing Thomas’ schemes to be so far reaching.
After learning of the announced settlement, BCSD Superintendent Dr. Eddie Ingram thanked his staff for their hard work and stated: “First, I am grateful for the integrity of this Board to do what is right and to work to make our District whole again; second, I am grateful for our legal counsel’s dogmatic pursuit of the wrongdoers, and finally I am grateful to the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office for their principled pursuit of justice. Without each of these efforts, these announced recoveries would not have been possible.”