Many state officials are wondering how an employee of the S.C. Department of Social Services could embezzle more than $5.5 million from the agency over a period of nearly four years without anyone noticing. We are too.
Former DSS Finance Director Paul Timothy Moore, 61, and nine alleged co-conspirators were charged in a federal complaint this month with theft of federal program funds, mail fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy. According to the complaint, Moore used his position to authorize cutting nearly 800 DSS checks averaging about $7,000 each, between May 2004 and October 2008.
The checks, which were issued to at least 250 people, came from an account to which he had access. Recipients would cash the checks and keep part of the money, from $700 to $1,500, and give the rest to Moore's alleged accomplice, Jonathon Moses, U.S. Attorney Walt Wilkins said.
Wilkins said Moore admits to taking $1.3 million and using it for gambling debts, his alcohol addiction and strip club visits. Moore is brother to former S.C. legislator and gubernatorial candidate Tommy Moore.
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In a recent legislative hearing, state lawmakers demanded answers from DSS officials as to how the fraud was perpetrated. State Sen. Mike Fair, R-Greenville, has requested a hearing by the Senate General Committee to investigate the case and determine how the theft went undetected, despite four audits.
DSS director Dr. Kathleen Hayes, in a story by WJBF-TV, the ABC affiliate in Aiken, said Moore's position as finance director allowed him to hide the theft. The money came from an agency administration account used for expenses such as leases on buildings, copiers, travel and other costs of running the daily operations of DSS.
"Being the director of the finance division, he was in a position to have access to systems and codes and developing documents that made them internally consistent to an auditor that allowed this to go on undetected," Hayes said.
Hayes said changes were made immediately after Moore's arrest to ensure the crime wouldn't be repeated. Moore's successor will not have access to the data system that allowed the embezzler to make changes to hide spending irregularities. No single person in the agency would be able to issue similar checks and hide the transaction.
Those steps are necessary. Nonetheless, a legislative investigation is warranted.
If financial oversight at DSS is lax enough to allow the theft of $5.5 million, then obviously, the system needs to be overhauled. Lawmakers need to ensure that similar problems don't exist at other agencies.
If the theft of millions from one agency went undetected for four years, we wonder how much might be missing from other agencies.
How did alleged thief get away with stealing more than $5.5 million from DSS?