Former court clerk pleads guilty to federal misuse-of-funds charge

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Former court clerk pleads guilty to federal misuse-of-funds charge

By PATRICK DONOHUE
pdonohue@beaufortgazette.com
843-706-8152
Published Wednesday, March 2, 2011   |  372 Words  |  

Former Beaufort County Clerk of Court Elizabeth Smith has agreed to plead guilty in federal court to misusing federal child-support enforcement funds, a week after the S.C. Supreme Court revoked her law license,

Smith, 47, signed a plea agreement Tuesday in which she pleaded guilty to one count of conversion of public money, according to federal court records.

Smith was charged by the U.S. Attorney's Office in September for writing five unauthorized checks worth $338,500 in federal child-support funds to pay her husband's salary while he oversaw the Beaufort County Drug Court between January 2006 and June 2009, according to the indictment.

Smith pleaded not guilty at her arraignment last year.

Winston Holliday, U.S. Attorney's Office prosecutor, said he was prepared for trial before Smith pleaded guilty.

"We felt like we had a strong case, but we're always pleased to get a guilty plea before trial," Holliday said.

Attempts Wednesday to reach Smith and her attorney, Lionel Lofton of Charleston, were unsuccessful.

Holliday said the plea agreement must still be accepted by U.S. District Judge Sol Blatt during a hearing in Charleston next month. If her plea is accepted, Smith likely will be sentenced by Blatt this summer, Holliday said.

Holliday said he likely will recommend that Smith serve up to 10 years in prison and pay a $250,000 fine as prescribed in federal law.

Tuesday's plea agreement is likely one of the final chapters in what has been a tumultuous year and a half for Smith, who served as county clerk of court from January 2001 until July 2009, when she resigned after being indicted in state court for misusing public funds.

A Beaufort County jury in September found Smith guilty of writing checks worth $23,500 from public accounts to help pay for insurance premiums for relatives and a vacation home on Pawleys Island.

Smith was sentenced to five years of probation and 200 hours of community service and was indicted the next day by a federal grand jury.

Last week, the S.C. Supreme Court disbarred Smith and ordered her to surrender her law license because of her state-court conviction.