Former CASA director booked on embezzlement charges

Joanne Patterson (Source: J. Reuben Long Detention Center)
Joanne Patterson (Source: J. Reuben Long Detention Center)

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) Just a couple of weeks after the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division began their preliminary inquiry into domestic violence victims advocate group Citizens Against Spouse Abuse, the group's director has been booked on embezzlement charges.

Booking records for J. Reuben Long Detention Center show that 55-year-old Joanne Patterson of Myrtle Beach, former executive director of CASA, was booked into the facility at 11:48 a.m. Tuesday. Patterson is charged with embezzlement of public funds, value $5,000 or more.

Bond was set at $10,000 and Patterson was released from custody Tuesday evening.

SLED officials say Patterson's arrest was a result of the SC Department of Public Safety's investigation, and the case will be prosecuted by the Fifteenth Circuit Solicitor's Office.

SLED spokeswoman Kathryn Richardson confirmed to WMBF News when the investigation began that the South Carolina Department of Public Safety requested SLED perform an initial inquiry into CASA regarding the possible mismanagement of funds.

In a statement, South Carolina Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Sherri Iacobelli said the SCDPS Office of Justice Programs discovered inconsistencies in the management of grant funding awarded to CASA in July of 2011.

The grant in question was a Victims of Crime sub grant by the SCDPS in the amount of $32,000 to purchase two mid-sized vans to transport victims of crime.

The SCDPS statement went on to say a routine check of CASA's finances uncovered the inconsistency, which they in turn submitted to SLED for further review. SCDPS has frozen all CASA grant funding as they await the outcome of SLED's investigation.

CASA Board Chairwoman Sissy Rutherford admitted to WMBF News money from the SCDPS grant was not used for vans. Instead she said Joanne Patterson, former executive director, spent the money on emergency needs associated with CASA's safe house.

Rutherford said the board fired Patterson, but that she didn't do anything immoral or criminal.

"Every penny of [the grant] stayed in CASA and was used to keep the doors open and to take care of the victims and the clients that we are currently serving," she said.

As a result of the SLED involvement Rutherford said several donors are already pulling funding from the organization.

She asks the public wait for SLED's conclusion before they judge. She also says plans are in place to make sure grant money goes exactly where it's supposed to in the future.

"We're doing everything we can and we're just asking for everyone to please continue to support us and give us the help we need," said Rutherford.

The alternative, according to Rutherford, is that CASA may have to close if it continues losing funding.

"If we don't have any funding we can't stay open and that's the honest to God truth. That place saved my life 20 years ago. I know how important it is for the women that stay there. It's a safe house, said Rutherford."

CASA funds have been misused before, according to a former employee. That employee said that took place years ago and was resolved without the involvement of authorities.

The entire SCDPS statement can be read below:

"A Victims of Crime sub grant was awarded to Citizens Against Spouse Abuse in Myrtle Beach on July 1, 2011 by the SC Department of Public Safety Office of Justice Programs. The two-month federal grant was in the amount of $32,000 and authorized the purchase of two mid-sized vans to transport victims of crime.  DPS has a system of checks and balances where it closely monitors grants to ensure that the stipulations of the grant are being followed by the grantees. This involves scheduled site visits to review applicable files and meet with grant staff; Our Office of Justice Programs followed protocol and discovered inconsistencies in the management of federal grant funding through its monitoring process. Those concerns were then submitted to SLED for further review and we will await their findings. We have frozen all grant funding to them at this time pending the outcome of SLED's investigation."

After details on this investigation came to light, several victims of domestic abuse that utilized CASA services spoke out to WMBF News about the conditions there. Hear what they had to say by clicking here.

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