Former Berkeley County School District CFO, Brantley Thomas pled guilty to 37 state charges in a Dorchester County courtroom on April 12. He was sentenced to an additional 11 years which he will serve following his five year federal sentence.
Prosecutors said in court that Thomas used some creative accounting to make district money disappear. At last count, the stolen money totaled nearly $1 million. Prosecutors said Thomas was given too much trust and he took advantage, early and often.
Prosecutors from the Attorney General’s Office said he used Wells Fargo and Wachovia banks for his embezzlement accounts. He would hide his dealings, like double payments, deep in district books. It all unraveled in 2017 when FBI agents discovered checks from the school district going into the account of a Wells Fargo employee.
The indictments said Thomas stashed the money in his personal accounts and sometimes was brazen enough to have checks sent to his personal address or a P.O. Box. He would use the money on things like lavish vacations. Prosecutors said he once took his family on a trip to the Cayman Islands using $20,000 of the districts money.
Once he embezzled money and took his family to New York City to visit Wall Street for a celebratory watch, as one of the district’s valuable bonds was being sold. Prosecutors said he would often embezzle the money paid for issuance district bonds. Prosecutors determined by looking at phone records that on the same day he would take money, he would sometimes call a travel agent or hotels.
“What you saw was that one man manipulated every system he could touch to benefit himself and to benefit his family for vacations and had zero regard for children,” said Josh Whitley, the school district’s legal counsel.
“It was actually appalling, how on some days he stole multiple times during the school day. There were some days they were the exact same date and he was just stealing every chance he could, from the building program to special education funds from Medicaid funds,” Whitley said.
Prosecutors also said even after he was fired from the school district and while he was out on bond, trusted friends who owned Jackson Davenport Vision Center in Charleston, allowed Thomas to do accounting work for them. He was trusted to deposit cash at the bank and pay bills. But during that time began to steal again, taking $36,000 from those who were willing to give him a second chance.
“I would like to apologize to the court, to the Berkeley County School District, to my family and to my friends,” Thomas said in court on April, 12. “The lessons I’ve learned have been personal and painful.”
And the school district wants to make sure a valuable lesson is not lost. An effort is under way by district superintendent Dr. Eddie Ingram to make Thomas’ crimes the new precedent for fraud and a very teachable moment.
“I have written a piece, that’s not in print yet, but I think this is a case that I believe you’ll see and hear discussed at superintendent preparation programs across the region, maybe the country,” said Ingram.
Currently Brantley Thomas is serving a 63 month federal sentence at the facility in Jesup, GA. When that is completed, because his sentences are consecutive, he will then serve the 11 year sentence for his state charges.