FLORENCE, SC — The former chief of a volunteer fire department in Florence County has pleaded guilty to taking more than $200,000 from the department.
Shannon Smith, 43, pleaded guilty Monday to embezzlement of public funds, writing a fraudulent check, forging or altering the title to a vehicle and obtaining goods under false pretenses.
Smith was placed on probation for five years and ordered to pay nearly $205,000 in restitution. Circuit Judge Michael Nettles also ordered Smith to perform more than 100 hours of public service.
Prosecutor Ed Clements III said the sentence should help get the department’s money back.
“Somebody else could steal something worth a whole lot less and go to prison then this guy steals all this and doesn’t,” Clements said. “But in this case, we felt what’s most important is to get the citizens’ money back. And if he goes to prison, that’s not going to happen.”
Smith was fire chief from 2007 until 2011, when he was fired after an audit revealed the missing money.
The State Law Enforcement Division found that Smith had opened a checking account in the department’s name that no one else was aware of.
Smith also altered the title to a department-owned pickup truck to make it appear the department had sold the vehicle to him. He then took out a $22,000 loan against the title.
“Getting the money back is more important than him going to prison, but what he did is just inexcusable, “Clements said.
Smith’s attorney said his client is remorseful and wants to make things right. Smith plans to sell some of his personal belongings to begin paying restitution.