Crime & Courts

Gaston residents anxious for trial to begin

Some Gaston residents are growing impatient with the slow pace of the criminal case against the town's former mayor, administrator and clerk of court.

"I think it's way overdue," said Bill Starr, a former member of a citizens group that formed to question management of town affairs. "They should be in jail by now."

Ex-mayor Larry Sharpe, former administrator Jenny Poole and her daughter Jessica Poole, the ex-clerk, were indicted in July 2008 on embezzlement and misconduct charges. They were arrested three months earlier.

Kay Rikard, a businesswoman who also was a leader in Concerned Citizens of Gaston, said a disposition of the case would help.

"It's been too long," Rikard said. "Maybe the town could get on the healing side if it was all over and done with."

"Some of the Concerned Citizens are wondering what's going on," Starr said. "Who's sitting on their hands?"

Court files show the cases as "pending," with no developments since the indictments.

Efforts over several weeks to reach chief prosecutor Donnie Myers or his deputy have been unsuccessful.

But attorney Richard Breibart, who represents Jenny Poole, said recently that Myers informed him in November he plans to call the case for trial early next year.

The case has been delayed because a succession of SLED agents have been assigned since the original agent retired.

In addition, a second audit of town funds was conducted after Jenny Poole challenged the findings of an audit conducted by the CPA who uncovered the alleged misspending.

Lastly, Breibart said, the case is complex because there are what he called four sets of allegations that involve different defendants and different public funds.

"It took me 6 1/2 days to go through the discovery," he said of documents compiled in the investigation.

Though the S.C. Supreme Court has a standard of disposing of cases within six months of indictment, Breibart said he has an embezzlement case in Richland County that is three years old.

"The status of the case is somewhat up in the air," he said.

Town leaders spent Gaston into a $202,000 debt for back payroll taxes owed to state and federal tax collectors and $45,300 in penalties to the state for accounting missteps. Gaston ran out of money and disbanded its police force in early 2008.

According to the warrants, Sharpe was reimbursed more than $5,000 in bogus expenses he submitted; the elder Poole stole more than $5,000 in payroll funds and Jessica Poole received more than $5,000 in stolen money from her mother.

Each of the three former Gaston leaders is accused of converting public funds to their own use as well as misconduct in office.

If convicted, they face up to 10 years in prison.