LEXINGTON — Gaston ex-mayor Larry Sharpe had been expected to fight the felony breach of trust over $5,000 charge lodged against him since 2008.
But Friday afternoon, Sharpe quietly pleaded guilty before Circuit Judge William Keesley.
About an hour before a scheduled pretrial hearing in the case, Sharpes lawyer said his client was ready to plead guilty, assistant 11th Circuit Solicitor Robert Elam said Sunday.
Sharpe, 65, was the third and final defendant to plead guilty this month in the long-running saga of missing money and financial mismanagement that has upended the tiny Lexington County town of Gaston for five years.
Immediately following Fridays hearing, Sharpe fell ill and was taken to a local hospital, his lawyer, Jan Strifling of Columbia said Sunday.
I was told he suffered a heart attack during the plea, Strifling said. I dont know whether or when he will ever go back to court.
Strifling declined comment on the guilty plea, saying the sentencing was still a pending matter.
On Oct. 1, Jessica Poole, 30, former town traffic clerk, pleaded guilty to felony breach of trust over $5,000.
On Oct. 15, her mother, Jennifer Poole, 54, former Gaston town administrator, pleaded guilty to the same charge. For 20 years, Jennifer Poole was town administrator.
All three, according to evidence in the case, had treated the town coffers as their private piggy bank, misappropriating funds for personal use, Elam said.
Evidence in the mayors case indicated he had taken about $5,000 from the town over several years.
All three were charged with breach of trust over $5,000 in April of 2008. All three had made statements to SLED that year admitting guilt. All three had also resigned their posts in the months before their arrests.
However, their cases were not readied for trial until the last few months for several reasons, 11th Circuit Solicitor Donnie Myers said last week. Myers said that a key prosecution witness had suffered a lengthy illness, and one defense attorney, Richard J. Breibart of Lexington County, also had health problems.
In June, Breibarts law license was suspended by the State Supreme Court. Breibart had represented Jennifer Poole. He was replaced by attorney Rob Bogan.
The lack of prosecution in the case caused unrest in the town of 1,500 as some supporters of the defendants have continued to insist, until recently, that the three were innocent, residents said.
Sharpe and the Pooles could receive up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
A sentencing hearing date has not yet been set. At that hearing Myers is expected to lay out many facts in the case, Elam said.
Exactly how much money the three stole from the town is not known, but evidence in the case released so far indicates the amount exceeds $40,000, with Jennifer Poole acknowledging she took the most.
Reach Monk at (803) 771-8344.