Ex-athletics director to serve his sentence on weekends

jmonk@thestate.comDecember 2, 2013 

Bryan Butz, right, talks with lawyer Theo Williams.

JOHN MONK/JMONK@THESTATE.COM

The former White Knoll High School athletics director who used a forgotten booster club bank account to embezzle some $112,000 in public money over four years as his personal slush fund was sentenced to a year of weekends in jail Monday.

The sentencing of Bryan Butz, 49, before Circuit Judge Robert Hood came after a 90-minute court battle by prosecution and defense lawyers over how severe a sentence to give. Butz, who has no criminal history, had faced 10 years in prison.

“Mr. Butz violated the trust of students and parents,” 11th Circuit assistant solicitor Robert Elam told Hood, explaining that donations to the school’s booster club plummeted after Butz’s theft was discovered.

Elam argued a substantial sentence would show that such a violation of public trust is taken seriously by society, noting Butz stole repeatedly from the booster club account and showed remorse “only when he was caught.”

Butz’s lawyer, Theo Williams of Lexington, responded by putting up eight witnesses — including Butz’s wife of 20 years, Melanie — who told the judge her husband is a Christian who repented his sins. She said he has a troubled adopted son who needs him to stay out of prison.

Butz is working with youth at Sunday school and in sports leagues, witnesses for Butz said, and his disgrace has caused him to suffer enough.

As athletics director, Butz made $80,000 a year and had one of the school’s most respected and visible posts. Now, he’s the $34,800-a-year night manager in a West Columbia chicken-processing plant but providing for his family, Butz witnesses said.

When he returns home from his night-shift chicken plant job, they added, Butz home-schools his child, because the child couldn’t get into the public school he and his wife wanted, Williams and the witnesses said.

“I don’t know how much more he can lose — freedom is the only thing he has left to lose,” Williams told Hood.

Melanie Butz told Hood she was “unaware of what was taking place. ... I lost my trust in my husband, but I also made the choice with my two adopted children to hold my family together.”

She also said next week, she will start seven weeks of breast cancer radiation therapy.

“I cannot imagine going through that without him,” she said. “I need my husband by my side.”

Prosecutors, Lexington County Sheriff’s Department detective Sam Gunter and Lexington 1 officials spent countless hours assembling evidence against Butz, Elam said.

Prosecutors assembled two voluminous sets of records. One, from BB&T bank, documented more than $500,000 in student, parent and school district money going into and out of the booster club account only Butz knew about. Another, from Wachovia Bank, documented Butz’s personal bank account.

Butz, promoted to athletic director in 2006, took advantage of “a perfect storm” in school personnel changes — a new principal and a new booster club president coinciding with the departure of the former athletics director Larry Grady — when he realized he was the only one who knew about the unused booster club account, Elam told Hood.

There was one other booster club account, but this one had been set up to get around district purchasing bid and purchase rules “to save time,” Elam said.

Butz didn’t keep records documenting spending, Elam said. Consequently, prosecutors had to painstakingly assemble evidence. They found Butz had used the money for such personal expenses as making $17,500 in ATM cash withdrawals, buying dog food and golf equipment, and paying cable television bills.

Up until Monday, Butz continued to claim that he only embezzled $35,000 and spent the undocumented remainder on legitimate expenses.

But Monday morning, confronted with indisputable evidence that prosecutors could prove he stole some $112,000, Butz and his lawyer agreed not to continue to insist on the $35,000 amount.

Butz’s theft was discovered in mid-2010, when a check bounced from Butz’s rogue account, and a BB&T bank official brought it to the attention of school officials.

In all, more than $500,000 in parent, student and public money disappeared from the rogue account during the years Butz used it, Elam told Hood. But due to the lack of recordkeeping, prosecutors could only prove that $112,000 in public money that had been illegally appropriated and spent, Elam said.

Hood told Butz if he doesn’t report to the Lexington County jail promptly at 6 p.m. each Friday to spend 48 hours, he could be thrown in prison.

Hood also said he would file a $112,000 civil judgment against Butz for the amount he stole. Technically, Hood said he was giving Butz 10 years in prison, but suspended that sentence if Butz serves a year of weekends in jail.

Insurance has reimbursed the school district $99,000, and Butz will have to make restitution of the roughly $13,000 in unreimbursed stolen money, Hood said.

John Crosby, youth pastor at Lexington Presbyterian Church, told the judge Monday Butz has been open with other members in sharing what he did, adding, “It’s been neat to hear Bryan grow through his love of Christ.”

Clay Werner, the church’s senior pastor, said Butz, a volunteer in several ministries, attends early morning Bible study. Church elder Paul Graham said, “He’s not sorry he got caught — he’s glad he got caught. Because living in that sin was dragging him down.”

Nelson Taylor, Butz’s father-in-law, said he had forgiven Butz, who had openly confessed to him.

“Personally, I think he needs counsel, because there is something there that prompted him to do what he did,” Taylor said. “But by God’s grace, God has forgiven him.”

Reach Monk at (803) 771-8344.

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