Originally created 07/09/98

Aiken County jail probe continues



AIKEN -- Nearly six months after launching a criminal investigation into corruption allegations at the Aiken County jail, the investigation is still ongoing with no word on when it will be over.

Five jail employees, including Administrator Lonnie McCarthy, were suspended with pay in January. Mr. McCarthy was allowed back in April. The other four employees returned to work in March, although two were reassigned to other county jobs after County Administrator Bill Shepherd cleared all of them administratively of wrongdoing.

The sheriff's office has provided few details on its investigation.

Mr. Shepherd said he found no evidence of criminality, just sometimes lax records-keeping and a need to tighten rules of operation at the jail.

Some records removed from the jail months ago were recently returned to Mr. Shepherd, said Lt. Michael Frank, spokesman for the Aiken County Sheriff's Office. Mr. Shepherd didn't immediately return a phone message left at his office Wednesday.

"Some auditing has been done," Lt. Frank said. "It is ongoing."

Back in May, Mr. Shepherd said the sheriff's office requested a copy of an audit of the jail's canteen fund done by Elliott Davis & Co, an accounting firm in Aiken. The audit prompted county council to amend by ordinance how the fund is handled, but there was no suggestion of irregularities found.

Lt. Frank said there's no estimated time on how much longer until the investigation is complete.

"Investigations vary. No investigation is done very quickly. It requires coordinating activities of so many people and different agencies," Lt. Frank said. "It's a big undertaking."

On Jan. 26, Mr. McCarthy, Belisa Morgan, Sharon Carpenter, Dale Stephens and Shannon Carter were suspended with pay. Investigators moved into the jail and began checking through records after accusations that food and kitchen items were diverted, funds were mismanaged and inmate labor improperly used.

After Mr. Shepherd returned them to work, several changes in the operations of the jail were enforced. For one, the practice of loaning out inmate labor to churches, community and civic groups was halted.

And county council approved a new ordinance to tighten control of the canteen fund. Currently, two accounts are maintained, one to track inmate payments for items purchased through the canteen and another for "net profits" from the sales. The latter account is now under the control of the county's treasurer. Any payments over $500 must get approval of the Detention Center Advisory Board.