County schools get surprise funding from unlikely source

By Sherry Matthews Editor

April 11, 2014

Sampson County Schools has become beneficiary of some unique funding courtesy of the Sheriff's Office but via seized asset money returned to law enforcement for dispersal.

Recently Sheriff Jimmy Thornton presented a grateful and surprised superintendent Dr. Eric Bracey with checks totaling $20,882.19, explaining that the funds were amassed from assorted criminal activity, mostly the sale of drugs and illegal alcohol and the raiding of illegal gambling establishments.

“It's unusual, really, for us to get any money back,” Thornton stressed. “Much of the money that is seized usually goes to pay taxes owed by a defendant. But occasionally there will be money left over, and once the case has gone to court and been adjudicated, it's released.”

And when it's released, the funds wind their way back to the Sheriff's Office, but it cannot stay there.

Thornton said by North Carolina General Statute, law enforcement agencies cannot keep the money. “It would be a conflict of interest. That's why it goes in a fund and we, in turn, write a check to the school system.”

In this case, the funds were disbursed to Bracey because, Thornton said, the majority of the money seized came from investigations in the county.

While the money was, on the one hand, garnered through illegal means, the sheriff said, some good would come from it in the end.

“It's a good way to use the money, allowing it to be turned into a positive. It's just another example of taking a criminal element and finding a way to do good. It also shows that crime doesn't pay — criminals may think they are going to make money but eventually we catch up with them and the money they have from illegal gain is taken from them. That's as it should be.

“That we can use it to make a positive difference somehow seems a fitting way to use the money.”

Bracey accepted the checks with a humble thank you. “We definitely can use this,” the superintendent said, shaking Thornton's hand. “We will put it to good use.”

That use will be security, the superintendent said. “Upgrading our security in all our schools will be a priority for this money. We're always looking to be proactive, and this money will allow us to do just that.”

Cameras, he said, will be on the radar as one of those purchases and, if funds remain, system officials will look at other proactive safety measures they can put into place, ensuring that, as Thornton said, a negative can be turned into a positive.

“This (money) will go a long way toward revamping our security. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate this contribution; I know our Board of Education will be just as appreciative,” Bracey said.