Ex-social services chief to plead guilty

Associated Press
Mr. Moore, 61, has spent the past two months in prison, unable to make his $50,000 bail.

COLUMBIA --- The former director of South Carolina's social services plans to plead guilty to embezzling millions of dollars from that agency once his lawyers can agree with prosecutors on how much money was stolen, his lawyer said Tuesday.

Paul Moore submitted a not guilty plea to theft and fraud charges at arraignment Tuesday in federal court. But his attorney Beattie Ashmore said Mr. Moore plans to change to a guilty plea once he can agree with prosecutors on the amount taken from the Department of Social Services.

Mr. Ashmore said Mr. Moore has been planning to plead guilty since authorities said they uncovered an embezzlement scheme in November. But the lawyer said the two sides are nearly $4 million apart. Prosecutors said Mr. Moore took $5.2 million, while Mr. Ashmore said he and Mr. Moore have been able to account for only about $1.3 million.

Mr. Ashmore said the two sides will spend several weeks going though documents to see whether they can reconcile amounts. If they can't reach an agreement, a judge will determine how much was taken, Mr. Ashmore said.

"In federal court, your ultimate sentence is set by the amount that was lost. The more the loss, the more the sentence," Mr. Ashmore said.

If found guilty of the charges, Mr. Moore could face up to 30 years in prison.

Mr. Ashmore said he received 1,700 pages of documents Tuesday on the case from prosecutors. In the documents, prosecutors allege Mr. Moore issued more than 750 checks, worth an average of $7,000 each, during a 41/2-year scheme that snowballed into millions of dollars of theft.

Prosecutors allege the scheme went undetected because Mr. Moore wrote the checks from a special account and asked state treasury officials to return them. Mr. Moore then gave the checks to a go-between named Jonathan Moses, who had people cash them, according to authorities.

Mr. Moses waited outside the bank, leaving the check cashers with about $1,000, authorities allege. Prosecutors said he and Mr. Moore split the rest. Mr. Moses' attorney has said the government has shown no proof his client kept any money.

Investigators said Mr. Moore spent the money on parties, alcohol and strippers.

Federal prosecutors also have charged Mr. Moses and eight people they say cashed the checks. Four pleaded not guilty Tuesday. More arrests are likely, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin McDonald said.