MYRTLE BEACH — An investigation by the State Law Enforcement Division into the alleged misuse of federal funds resulted in the arrest of the executive director of the nonprofit Citizens Against Spousal Abuse on Tuesday.
JoAnne Patterson, 55, of Myrtle Beach, has been charged with embezzlement of public funds greater than $5,000, said SLED spokeswoman Kathryn Richardson.
The investigation is continuing, but no further charges are expected, Richardson said. Patterson was booked at J. Reuben Long Detention Center just before noon Tuesday and released on $10,000 bail about 5:20 p.m. that evening, records show.
The arrest came on the same day CASAs board chairwoman, Sissy Rutherford, told The Sun News that money from a $32,000 federal grant was not used for its intended purpose.
The $32,000 grant was earmarked for the purchase of two vans to transport victims. Instead, it was used to keep open the doors of a safe house for abused women and children in Georgetown, she said.
The van grant should have been used for vans, Rutherford said. It was used to make sure employees got paid and the clients got the services they needed. There was no money stolen out of that organization. From my point-of-view, there was not a dime stolen. It was all used within that organization to keep those doors open.
I want people to understand that there was no moral or criminally wrong intent in what happened.
Rutherford said the money was used that way because of an emergency and financial problems that were largely a result of the economic slowdown that affected most nonprofits.
Former assistant director Alicia Rahiem disagreed, saying the problems began long before that and were not solely the result of the struggling economy. She said a number of CASA employees had been concerned for some time about how money was being spent.
The financial downfall has been going on for a long time, but [board members] werent paying attention, Rahiem said.
The SLED investigation has also led to the shuttering of two safe houses in Myrtle Beach and Georgetown and fewer counselors and legal advisers to help domestic violence victims along the Grand Strand.
Some of the groups largest financial contributors, such as the city of Myrtle Beach, are withholding money until things clear up. The city had given CASA between $40,000 and $50,000 annually since 2007.
The nonprofit has been helping victims of domestic violence along the Grand Strand for more than 30 years, including providing refuge for more than 250 women and children every year in the safe houses.
CASA partners such as the S.C. Department of Social Services and the Department of Public Safety said the group would no longer get funding if it was still headed by the same board members, Rutherford said. DSS is also auditing the group.
City Council tentatively approved $50,000 in the new budget, but its contingent upon the wrap-up of the investigation, CASAs board reforming and a renewed request from a new CASA coming to the city, Myrtle Beach spokesman Mark Kruea said.
Most of CASAs board members are making plans to eventually step aside to make room for a replacement organization that will fill the gap in services left in CASAs wake. It will have a new name and new leadership.
One of CASAs newest board members, Erin Wilde, is leading that charge. She and Rahiem were scheduled to meet Tuesday night.
Rutherford said the grant money was redirected by Patterson after the Georgetown safe house had an invasion of bed bugs that required a $3,000 extermination bill and the need to replace mattresses and covers for 30 beds.
Patterson couldnt be reached for comment.
Rutherford said money was already tight because of a roughly 40 percent reduction in funding.
When the [federal] money came in, there was an emergency that arose at the safe house, so [Patterson] had to use some of the money from the vans thinking she would be able to replace it, Rutherford said. She used the money to keep the doors open at the safe houses is what she did, not having any idea that this was going to be the repercussions of that.
Two vans were supposed to have been purchased by October 2011 and Rahiem and another employee identified two at a Georgetown car dealership that were ready to be bought, according to Rahiem. They test drove the burgundy vans, which cost about $13,000 and $12,000, respectively, she said.
Officials with the Department of Public Safety began asking about the whereabouts of the vans and had to reschedule several appointments to see them after CASA officials changed the dates, Rahiem said.
Rahiem said she was asked to lie about how long CASA had owned some hastily purchased vans when DPS officials demanded to see the vehicles.
Rahiem said employees have also not received thousands of dollars of unpaid mileage and other reimbursements, and that there were other financial problems.
Nobody was really watching, she said.
Contact ISSAC BAILEY via Twitter at @TSN_IssacBailey. Contact AMANDA KELLEY at 626-0381.