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SC sheriff indicted, arraigned on embezzlement, misconduct charges

In a one-two-three punch, Florence County Sheriff Kenney Boone was indicted on Wednesday on charges of embezzlement and misconduct in office, quickly suspended from office by Gov. Henry McMaster and then arraigned — formally presented with the charges — in a Richland County courtroom.

The indictments, handed down by a State Grand Jury and announced by the attorney general’s office, allege that Boone used both county and federal funds allocated to the sheriff’s office for his personal use. The State Law Enforcement Division has been investigating since at least November.

“This is a surprise to me... the first I’ve heard of any of this,” Boone told state circuit Judge DeAndrea Benjamin at a brief hearing Wednesday afternoon.

Benjamin set a $50,000 personal recognizance bond on Boone, who as of yet had no lawyer, and ordered that he wear an ankle location monitor and be under house arrest, at least for the immediate future. She ordered him to stay away from the sheriff’s department.

Benjamin set the conditions of house arrest and electronic monitoring of Boone’s location after hearing a presentation from the attorney general’s prosecutor, Heather Weiss, who told the judge “because of some incidents that have occurred, there may be some concerns.”

When Boone asked the judge what Weiss was alluding to, Weiss elaborated, saying that some people in the sheriff’s department who may have helped in the investigation were “concerned there may be some sort of retaliation for that.”

Also, Weiss said without being specific, “in the past couple of weeks, there have been some texts sent where there were threats made about another situation involving a law enforcement agent, not at the sheriff’s department, and based on those, we’d just like to be sure everything’s going to be calm and settled once everybody leaves this court hearing.”

Boone told the judge he had just gotten back from a vacation. When arrested, he was wearing his sheriff’s clothes — a short-sleeved olive drab shirt with a golden badge monogram, multi-pocketed brownish cargo pants and paramilitary sand-colored desert boots. Throughout the hearing, he stood in a military “parade rest” stance, erect and with hands clasped behind his back.

Boone, sheriff since 2005, used funds from a federal narcotics account at the sheriff’s office to purchase a variety of goods including bicycle equipment, groceries, coolers, baseball equipment, electronics and clothing from a variety of retailers including Academy Sports and Outdoors, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Sam’s, Walmart, Best Buy, GameStop, Mast General Store and various restaurants, according to the indictments.

Additionally, the sheriff used funds from the Florence County annual budget to purchase window tinting, floor mats, tools, lights, cooking appliances and groceries, indictments allege.

Boone is only the latest in a long line of S.C. sheriffs to face criminal charges or scrutiny.

In 2012, former Saluda County Sheriff Jason Booth left office after pleading guilty to charges of misusing inmates at his county jail.

In 2013, former Abbeville County Sheriff Charles Goodwin stepped down after pleading guilty to misconduct in office for receiving kickbacks. He was put on probation and sentenced to 100 hours of community service.

In 2014, former Chesterfield County Sheriff Sam Parker was convicted by a jury on charges he gave inmates at his jail access to women, weapons, alcohol and the Internet. He was sentenced to two years in prison.

Also in 2014, former Williamsburg County Sheriff Michael Johnson was found guilty of using his sheriff’s incident reports in a credit fraud conspiracy. He was sentenced to 30 months in prison.

In 2015, former Lexington County Sheriff Jimmy Metts pleaded guilty to a federal felony charge of conspiring to keep two undocumented immigrants from being processed at his jail so he could release them back into the community. Metts was sentenced to a year in prison.

Last fall, Florence County and Boone’s agency made national news when an ambush left seven law enforcement officers injured, two of them fatally, when an attempt to interview a suspect about a sexual assault allegation turned into a gun battle. One of the officers killed was Florence County sheriff’s deputy Farrah Turner. A Florence man, Fred Hopkins, a disbarred lawyer, is facing murder charges in connection with the incident.

McMaster selected former Florence County Sheriff William C. “Billy” Barnes to serve as sheriff until the case is adjudicated, according to a release from the governor’s office.

Barnes served as sheriff of Florence County from 1974 to 1993 and recently served as the department’s polygraph examiner, according to the release.

“From the very beginning, the Florence County Sheriff’s Office brought the allegations supporting the indictment to the attention of SLED,” the sheriff’s office statement reads. “FCSO has and will continue to cooperate with SLED and the S.C. Attorney General’s Office in the investigation and will be open for a full and complete audit of all spending by this office. The investigation is ongoing, but to date there is no indication that anyone else employed by the Sheriff’s Office was involved in any of the allegations contained in the indictment. “

Misconduct in office is a misdemeanor that carries up to 10 years in prison, according to the attorney general’s office. Embezzlement is a felony that carries up to five years in prison.

By early afternoon, the Florence County sheriff’s department web site still had Boone’s photo displayed with the words, “It is with great pride that I extend to you an invitation to learn more about the Florence County sheriff’s office, and some of our dynamic programs...”

One of Boone’s mottos, displayed on a web page listing his accomplishments and goals, was a quote from Edmund Burke: “All that evil needs to triumph is for good men to stand by and do nothing.”

Florence County, traversed by the main East Coast north-south corridor I-95, lies in the heart of what is called the state’s Pee Dee region — a large area of swamps, rivers, forests and tobacco and other farms. A mixture of rural and small businesses, Florence County has been known over the years for colorful events, such as the 1958 accidental dropping of an atomic bomb by an Air Force plane.

Noteworthy people to come out of Florence County include philanthropist Darla Moore, State Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, the late astronaut Ron McNair and the late Donald “Pee Wee” Gaskins, South Carolina’s most notorious serial killer.

Teddy Kulmala covers breaking news for The State and covered crime and courts for seven years in Columbia, Rock Hill, Aiken and Lumberton, N.C. He graduated from Clemson University and grew up in Barnwell County.