SC

Hampton County Financial Mismanagement Prompts Investigations, Allegations

Embattled county still cannot get its money straight …

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Amidst a wave of investigations and allegations of financial mismanagement, Hampton County, South Carolina’s funding from the state treasurer’s office has been frozen until the county submits a required audit report that was due January 1, 2024.  County officials requested – and were granted – a 90-day extension, but still failed to comply.

For more than two years, concerned taxpayers have been calling for a forensic audit to assure transparency in light of allegations of fraud, millions in missing or misspent funds and a habitual failure to report required financial information with the state. 

It’s the second time in two years the county has been sanctioned by the state treasurer’s office for failing to submit a required independent audit report. The most recent failure marks the latest in a series of events signaling all is not well with the management of the county’s finances. 

Not only are required reports not being filed with the state, county financial information is not being provided to the public. The most recent audit report posted on the county website, for example, is from 2022.

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In other words, the most basic measures put in place to prevent fraudulent activities – and to assure transparency for taxpayers – are being sidestepped or ignored. Mandatory stewardship is not being provided.

The state treasurer’s office is required to take action against local entities which fail to report. Hampton is one of six counties currently facing a spending freeze.  The others include: Allendale, Calhoun, Marion, Orangeburg and Williamsburg counties. An estimated seventy municipalities are in the same boat. 

The freeze could impact local services, but it involves only one form of revenue for the county – funds provided through the treasurer’s office. Other revenues will not be impacted.

The avalanche of turmoil surrounding Hampton County’s financial oversight was brought to light in January 2022 via a letter from a citizens’ group to state leaders after an audit revealed millions of dollars tied to the county’s Capital Projects Sales Tax (CPST) went missing or were misspent.

“An immediate and thorough investigation of county finances is imperative,” the letter from the Hampton County Citizens for Active Restoration (HCCAR) noted. “Council has provided no detailed reconciliation of CPST revenue and expenditure and no details concerning how these restricted funds were spent although consistently asked to do so.”

The group’s website includes a fiscal recovery plan petition outlining six steps to get county finances – and financial procedures – back on track.

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Excerpt from Hampton Council fiscal recovery plan. (HCCAR)

In January 2023, Hampton sheriff Anthony Russell asked the S.C. Law Enforcement Division (SLED) to investigate what he perceived as a “mess” within a month of taking office. At that time, the problems identified a year earlier by HCCAR had not been addressed or remedied.

Since then, the S.C. Department of Revenue (SCDOR) has been investigating the county’s decade-long failure to provide quarterly reports on the use of sales tax for capital projects. The county systematically disregarded the state law requiring quarterly reports on sales tax revenue expenditures, critics alleged.

As for SLED, the agency is reportedly investigating former Hampton County administrator Rose Dobson-Elliott over allegations of fraud and breach of trust. In April 2023, interim county administrator Heather Simmons Jones filed a report with the sheriff’s office (.pdf) accusing Elliott of stealing funds from the county. Elliott left the Hampton County job in December 2023 to take a position in Jasper County as the director of engineering services.

Following the departure of Dobson-Elliott, Hampton county council began the process to fill the position — a position critical to the recovery of the county’s finances. On December 4, 2023, the council met in a closed door session to review and vote on four finalists who had applied for the position. In a divided vote, council members J.J. Jinks, Darrin Williams, and Roy Hollingsworth voted for Lavar Youmans, while council members Noah Alexander and Camille Welch voiced votes for Albert Penska.

The employment contract for Youmans was unanimously approved on December 13, 2023 in a special meeting of the council – though it was not without objections of the community – many of whom voiced concerns over Youman’s apparent lack of governmental administrative experience.

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SLED South Carolina Law Enforcement Department

RELATED | COOSAWHATCHIE MYSTERY

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During the public comments portion of the meeting, state representative William Hager told the council, “I have constituents calling me concerning the hiring of the county administrator.”

“I need your help to explain why the decision was made to bypass candidates with administrative experience for a candidate whose resume is at the very least a word salad, showing very little experience in administration,” Hager said.

In February 2024, the controversy escalated when Hampton County’s newly hired finance director/ deputy administrator Al Penska was fired by Youmans — a move that raised even more questions about management and transparency since he was the one said to be actively engaged in the financial and ethical restructuring intended to restore accountability — and public trust. 

FITSNews has submitted FOIA requests in an attempt to dig deeper into the situations impacting the county’s finances – and to bring clarity to the situation.  

As Hampton County confronts these challenges, the spotlight on its financial practices serves as a reminder of the importance of transparency, integrity and responsible stewardship in local government. Only through thorough investigations, accountability measures, and a commitment to transparency can Hampton County restore public trust and ensure the effective and ethical management of taxpayer dollars.

FITSNews is here for it. Stay tuned for the results of our inquiry into this developing situation …

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

Callie Lyons (Provided)

Callie Lyons is a journalist, researcher, and author whose investigative work can be found in media outlets, publications, and documentaries all over the world – most recently in the Parisian newspaper Le Monde and a German documentary for ProSieben. Lyons also appears in Citizen Sleuth – a 2023 documentary exploring the genre of true crime.

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1 comment

Annetta Hough Top fan April 19, 2024 at 10:13 am

This article leaves me with a few questions … does the Hampton County Administrator go by a single name, Youmans? Was Youmans a former employee of Hampton County before being hired as the county’s Administrator? Who exactly is being referred to as you report on the firing of the Finance Director/Deputy Administrator ” in the a move that raised even more questions about management and transparency since he was the one said to be actively engaged in the financial and ethical restructuring intended to restore accountability — and public trust”

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