For years, she dipped into the town of Gastons bank accounts, taking money for her own use. She padded expense accounts. She made up false reimbursements. She took town gasoline for personal use.
Monday, justices long arm caught up with Jennifer Poole.
The 54-year-old former town administrator of Gaston unexpectedly entered a guilty plea Monday to felony breach of trust with fraudulent intent of over $5,000 before a circuit judge in Lexington. She had been scheduled to go on trial later in the month.
At about the time Mrs. Poole retired as town administrator in late 2007, problems with the towns finances came to light, assistant 11th Circuit Court Assistant Solicitor Robert Elam told Circuit Judge Alexander Macaulay.
Pooles guilty plea in a windowless Lexington County courtroom shortly after noon leaves just one defendant in the long-running Gaston embezzlement case ex-Mayor Larry Sharpe. He is charged with felony breach of trust, with a trial scheduled for Oct. 29.
Pooles daughter Jessica, 30, pleaded guilty Oct. 1 to felony breach of trust.
When sentenced, both could receive up to 10 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine. A sentencing date has not been set.
Although prosecutors wont discuss their plans, the Pooles are potential witnesses in the case against Sharpe, who resigned as mayor in February 2008.
In 2007, Elam told the judge, citizen activists in the town became alarmed about Gastons finances. Jennifer Poole, town administrator for 20 years, oversaw the towns bank accounts.
It became very apparent town bills were not being paid, Elam said. The town began to borrow money from a local bank to get by on a month-to-month basis.
Federal taxes werent being paid, checks were being bounced from the towns bank accounts, and there were high fees for those bounced checks, Elam said.
The S.C. Municipal Association sent certified public accountant, Wanda Charping, to the town, Elam said. Charping found records so chaotic that she went to then-Mayor Sharpe and told him, You are going to call SLED or I am, Elam said.
SLED investigators served search warrants to gain access to Jennifer Pooles personal bank accounts one at SAFE Federal Credit Union, the other at BB&T. During a five-year period, Poole had made $12,521 in unexplained cash deposits at the credit union. During a roughly overlapping four-year period, she had made $20,617 in cash deposits into the BB&T account.
Elam told the judge that in February 2008, a few months after Jennifer Poole resigned her post and SLED was investigating, she made a confession. Her attorney at the time, Richard Breibart, called SLED to his law offices, where Poole confessed, Elam said.
In her statement, Poole admitted she had been stealing town money since 2000, using it to pay for medications and for bounced check fees in her personal bank accounts.
She also admitted she gave cash to her daughter (Jessica Poole), and her daughter, at the same time, in the same law office, admitted she received cash from her mother, Elam said.
Mrs. Poole also said she had falsified reimbursement checks to herself, Elam said.
When she and town officials went to annual conferences, she would stay a little longer and the town would reimburse her for the extra stay, Elam said. On one occasion, she cut herself a check for mileage, travel and meals and she didnt go that year.
More details about the crimes of mother and daughter will come up at the sentencing, when victims and other involved parties will have a chance to be present, Elam said.
Asked why it had taken so long to get this case to trial, when the Pooles had confessed in early 2008, 11th Circuit Solicitor Donnie Myers noted three reasons: a key prosecution witness was ill for a long time; SLEDs records werent kept in order until about a year ago when new Chief Mark Keel took over; and the Pooles then-attorney, Breibart, had health problems and received formal court excuses to delay trial.
Myers also said he doesnt depend on confessions to make a case, because they may contain flaws that undermine a guilty plea.
When I prepare a case, if theres a confession, I throw that out, and I tell them (my prosecutors) to show me some evidence, Myers said. You have to be able to prove what the confession says.
Reach Monk at (803) 771-8344.