A former Sampson County Sheriff’s Department employee was charged Thursday with two counts of embezzlement, felonies, court documents show, related to the misappropriation of carry/conceal weapons permit monies collected by the Sheriff’s Office.
Warrants for arrest were drawn against Mary King Avery, 48, of 1785 Share Cake Road, Clinton, charging her with two counts I Embezzlement-public official/trustees. Avery turned herself in at the Sheriff’s Office Thursday. She gave a written promise to appear and was released.
District Attorney Ernie Lee stressed Thursday that Avery was presumed innocent, a constitutional protection, until such time as, or if, proven guilty by a court of law.
Avery, an administrative support specialist I with the Sheriff’s Department since Nov. 1, 1999, resigned her position on Oct. 31, just a few weeks after Sampson Sheriff Jimmy Thornton alerted Lee to a county audit’s discovery of the embezzlement.
“On Oct. 16, 2016, I was contacted by Sheriff Jimmy Thornton notifying me that an employee may have been misappropriating some money,” Lee said, noting that he met with Thornton the same day and discussed the audit’s findings.
Following that meeting, Lee contacted the State Bureau of Investigation, requesting an investigation. “On Oct. 17, I then made my request in writing. That’s generally the way I do things, make a call first, then follow it up with a letter. Seeking investigation by an outside agency was the appropriate way to handle this.”
A special agent with the SBI’s southeastern district was immediately assigned to the case and a probe was conducted. Lee met with the SBI Monday and warrants were later drawn against Avery.
“The key to this was the sheriff’s quick response to the situation. The fact that he contacted us so quickly after the audit’s findings enabled us to move quickly with an investigation,” Lee said. “I cannot tell you how much I appreciate how quickly Sheriff Thornton responded.”
The routine audit uncovered $46,295 had been misappropriated over a calendar year.
“I regret what has happened and I apologize,” Thornton stressed Thursday. “The people of this county have a right to an explanation and here it is,” Thornton said.
“Once I was notified by the auditor, I immediately made contact with the District Attorney and requested an investigation by an impartial agency,” the sheriff noted. “The N.C. State Bureau of Investigation was notified and agreed to conduct the investigation. We determined the facts and once we were certain what had happened, we took appropriate legal steps.”
The first warrant, which lists offense dates from July 1, 2012 through Dec. 31, 2012, states, in part, that there was probable cause to believe Avery “unlawfully, willfully and feloniously embezzled and used or misapplied to her own use money in the amount of $10,315, property belonging to and held in trust for Sampson County and the Sheriff’s Department. The second warrant reads similarly, with offense dates listed from Jan. 2, 2013 to Oct. 17, 2013, with a total money amount of $35,980.
An apologetic Thornton said Sampson County was the victim in the embezzlement and that the actual money amount the county was out was substantially less than the over $46,000 listed in the two warrants. He stressed that no carry/conceal holders were out any money and that no permits were ever in jeopardy.
“I can also say that Mrs. Avery has resigned. I would like to say more, but it would not be appropriate until the investigation has concluded and the case is adjudicated.
“This has been an unhappy and unfortunate experience for everyone, and again, I regret it. This incident is being dealt with openly and forthrightly,” Thornton added.
Avery is scheduled to make her first appearance in Sampson District Court today. Lee and Assistant District Attorney Robbie Thigpen will be in charge of the state’s case.