UNION — After a guilty plea, a former Union County Magistrate’s Office employee was sentenced to two years in prison and five years probation, as well as being required to pay $40,000 in restitution.
The arrest warrant states that Sherry Fisher Johnson, 49, of 2935 Buffalo-West Springs Hwy., Buffalo, committed the crime of misconduct in office. The warrant states that between September 2010-December 2011, while employed as a clerk in the Union County Magistrate’s Office, Johnson stole money — designated for criminal fines — for her own personal use.
On Wednesday afternoon, Johnson pleaded guilty to misconduct in office. The other charge against her — embezzlement of public funds — was dismissed in lieu of Johnson’s guilty plea.
Solicitor Kevin Brackett explained that Union County magistrates noticed procedures that caused concern in fall 2011. Court administrators, in consultation with the Supreme Court, ordered an audit, and SLED began an investigation in January 2012. Brackett said that on Jan. 13, 2012, over $10,000 in cash was found in various places throughout the magistrate’s office. On Jan. 17, Johnson was suspended from the office. On Jan. 26, she was interviewed by SLED and admitted wrongdoing, describing in detail how cash was pocketed. Brackett explained that Johnson and another clerk — Allyson Ayers — would accept cash for fines, and then go into the system and write them off, as if no money was due because the defendants had served time.
Brackett told Judge John C. Hayes that a message needed to be sent because Johnson stole funds, even in the midst of numerous public officials being convicted in Union County.
In November, Ayers was sentenced to six months probation after paying $57,500 in restitution. Johnson’s attorney, Doug Brannon, said his client was not fortunate enough to have a family member who could just write her a check for that amount of money, as Ayers did. He explained that Johnson had faced two foreclosures and had been unable to find a job until around one week ago when she began a manual-labor outdoor job. Brannon said Johnson and her husband struggle to support their family of five.
Brannon pointed out that Johnson was cooperative from the beginning, which was not the case with Ayers. Brannon said Johnson was given one polygraph test, which she passed. He said Ayers failed her first polygraph.
“My client blew the lid off this case,” Brannon said, explaining that she was cooperative and truthful during the entire investigation. “I’m pleading with the court for my client to receive a probationary sentence.”
After hearing both sides, Judge Hayes sentenced Johnson to 10 years, which was suspended to two years in the South Carolina Department of Corrections, to be followed by five years probation. Johnson will also be required to pay $40,000 in restitution during that time.