Crime & Courts

USC fraud case heading for trial

The case of a once-trusted University of South Carolina official charged in 2007 with stealing $178,000 from the university finally is headed to trial.

The case has been in limbo for three years since a May 2006 audit uncovered the missing money. The incident received no publicity.

"We are in the process of bringing this to court in the near future," 5th Circuit Deputy Solicitor John Meadors said in declining to provide more detail.

Lawrence Godwin III, 34, of Camden is charged with breach of trust, embezzlement and credit-card misuse, according to indictments and arrest warrants. Efforts to reach Godwin for comment were unsuccessful.

His lawyer, Melissa Kimbrough of Columbia, said he is cooperating with authorities.

"We are trying to get this resolved as soon as possible," she said. "Nobody wants this to drag out."

Godwin was an accountant and fiscal analyst from 2003 to mid-2006 in the Carolina Card office of USC's division of business and finance.

He is charged with taking money from USC's Carolina Card machines. More than 25,000 students, faculty and staff put money into the machines to add purchasing power to debit-type cards, which are used as identity cards and to make campus purchases.

Godwin "was responsible for collecting money deposited in Carolina Card machines on campus to be credited to campus debit cards, counting the money and taking it to the bursar's office for deposit," said USC spokeswoman Margaret Lamb.

"He allegedly learned how to manipulate the machines so he could go on his own after hours to empty them of cash and then reconcile the balance shown on the machines with the reports," Lamb said.

The university is seeking restitution from Godwin but has received none, Lamb said.

USC has received $124,798 in payments for the theft from Zurich of North America. That company issues fidelity bonds to institutions that cover individuals who handle money in their jobs, Lamb said.

The case against Godwin has moved slowly because of the 2009 death of his first defense lawyer, John Hardaway of Columbia, and the reassignment of the case to various prosecutors within the 5th Circuit solicitor's office, lawyers connected to the case said.

According to indictments and arrest warrants in the case, Godwin is charged with:

- Committing breach of trust by taking $151,000 in cash from three Carolina Card machines during 2005 and 2006. The cash in the machines had been deposited by students, faculty and staff.

"The defendant admitted to taking and converting this money to his personal use," according to an arrest warrant in the case. Security cameras recorded Godwin's actions, a warrant said.

- Forging "numerous checks" totaling $23,276 to get cash from a Carolina Card checking account.

- Committing credit-card fraud by using a USC purchasing card to buy $4,055 worth of goods he was not entitled to.

In June 2006, several weeks after the missing money was discovered, Godwin left his approximately $35,000-a-year job at the university.

In November 2006, warrants on fraud charges were issued for Godwin's arrest. He was indicted by a Richland County grand jury in February 2007.

As the case was headed toward court in January 2009, Godwin's lawyer died, said Meadors, the deputy solicitor.

Kimbrough then became Godwin's lawyer.

Lamb said USC has taken steps to forestall similar thefts.

"We have implemented additional controls, including one that limits access to the electronic reporting system and added security measures," she said.

One additional measure "sends an alert when the Carolina Card machine is opened or emptied," she said.