BCSD Chief Financial Officer terminated for alleged misconduct
**This story has been updated from print edition**
After 24 years with the Berkeley County School District (BCSD), Chief Financial Officer Brantley Thomas was terminated from his position last week, according to a district press release. The district announced Brantley’s dismissal on February 8. After releasing few initial details on the case, the Berkeley County School Board took the matter up at its February 14 meeting, announcing that Thomas had confessed to taking close to $400,000 from the district's coffers.
Wells Fargo Bank, the BCSD’s financial institution, first contacted the district on Sunday, February 5, requesting a meeting with the BCSD legal counsel and officials, as well as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). That meeting took place the next day and included BCSD Board Chair Sally Wofford, Vice Chair Mac McQuillin, and Superintendent Brenda Blackburn. Those in attendance at the session “were informed of an investigation into criminal misconduct by Mr. Thomas,” stated the release, which was issued by the district’s department of communications and community engagement.
Based on information presented, Thomas was terminated and an emergency meeting of the School Board was called. The press release issued by the district also stated that an immediate review of all of the BCSD’s financial accounts and other monetary transactions is underway, “in an effort to identify all fiscal irregularities that may exist.”
“We appreciate Wells Fargo and the FBI for promptly bringing this to our attention,” said Board Chair Sally Wofford. “We ask the public’s patience as we thoroughly investigate this serious matter and promise to take all appropriate actions.”
FBI spokesperson Don Wood confirmed last week that the agency is investigating “an allegation involving a violation of the public trust by a former employee of the Berkeley County School District.”
“Such allegations are a high priority for the FBI,” he said. “The School District is cooperating in this investigation. Because the investigation is ongoing, no further information can be provided at this time.”
But shortly after an executive session at the BCSD Board Meeting on February 14, Vice Chair Mac McQuillin read a prepared statement about the case, detailing what the district had learned about Thomas' alleged actions. McQuillin explained that the district had been given copies of 10 "large refund checks" issued to the district that were "converted by Mr. Thomas to cashiers' checks and then deposited into his own account at his bank." In total, the checks amounted to $382,251.61, he said, and date back to July 2012.
"As a victim, we were also advised that...Mr. Thomas has admitted to this wrongdoing," continued McQuillin. "...We have concerns that there may be further amounts misappropriated and are committed to getting to the bottom to discover any and all wrongdoing. We want to act swiftly to make decisions to stabilize the financial security of this district, and we acknowledge that our ultimate duty is to the children of our schools and the citizens of Berkeley County."
McQuillin also recognized the district's legal counsel, Josh Whitley and Brandon Gaskins for their assistance during what he called "a difficult time." He cited the board's commitment to transparency as the reason for releasing information on the case to the public.
"I trust these unprecedented actions of the board - both to cooperate fully with the FBI and to be transparent in disclosing as much as we can to the public - will help build the public's trust that this board is committed to righting wrongs. We also understand that this district will have to be diligent to earn the public's trust regarding use of public funds going forward."
Local attorney Matt Hubbell, who is representing Thomas, stated that no charges have been filed against his client and that Thomas is “cooperating with the investigation.”
On January 10, about a month prior to Thomas’ recent termination, the BCSD announced that the district had once again achieved the “highest financial opinion” following its annual independent review of financial practices. The superior findings, known as an “unmodified audit” in accounting terms, indicated that the district had a “sound financial position” and that it had “appropriate monetary practices in place to maintain these standards.” At the time, Thomas offered the following statement in a press release issued by the district on the achievement:
“With expenditures approaching half a billion dollars, the Berkeley County School District is unquestionably an enormous economic engine in this region, which impacts every taxpayer whether they have children in schools or not. Our ability to maintain sound financial stewardship of these funds is essential. The results of this independent audit reaffirms not only our ability – but also our commitment – to do just that.”
The audit’s “highest financial opinion” result marked the 24th consecutive year the district has achieved the benchmark. Superintendent Blackburn called the finding “an incredible achievement” and noted that the district takes their responsibility to “properly manage our budgets very seriously because we know that every dollar we save is another dollar we can invest in our number one priority – our students.”
At their February 14 meeting, the board voted unanimously to terminate the relationship between the BCSD and its auditors, Greene Finney and Horton. They also authorized the district's legal counsel to conduct an internal investigation into the full scope of alleged misconduct by the former Chief Financial Officer. A third motion to authorize Superintendent Blackburn to "take any and all necessary actions to secure the financial stability of the district" also passed unanimously.