Former Williamston Mayor Marion Middleton gave up his right to a jury trial and pled guilty to embezzlement and criminal conspiracy charges during proceedings Aug. 9 at the Anderson County Courthouse.
Judge Wyatt Saunders, presiding for the Tenth Judicial Circuit Court, sentenced Middleton to six years, suspended to 90 days and probation for five years on the embezzlement charge.
Middleton must also make restitution of the $76,275 he admitted taking from the Town of Williamston coffers.
The criminal conspiracy charge resulted in a five year sentence which was suspended.
Prosecutors dropped two breach of trust charges related to a Bose Wave radio and leatherbound books that were found in his possession which were bought with town funds .
Middleton, who will be 73 years old on Aug. 20, was ordered by the court to turn himself in to the Anderson County Detention Center at 9 a.m. on Aug. 19 to serve the active sentence.
He will be allowed release from jail for eight hours once per week for health reasons with the release and return times to be specified.
Middleton could have received up to ten years in prison and a $10,000 fine on the embezzlement charge and up to five years and a $5,000 fine on the conspiracy charge.
Tenth Circuit Assistant Solicitor Kathy Hodges said she thought the sentence handed down by Judge Saunders was fair.
Its fair, she said following the proceeding which lasted about 90 minutes.
When asked by Judge Saunders, How do you plead? Middleton simply replied, Guilty
When asked by the judge if he had committed the crimes by diverting public funds from the Town of Williamst and dispersing or diverting funds in excess of $5,000 for his own use, Middleton responded, Yes your honor.
During the statement of the facts, State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) agent Gene Donahue said that the former town clerk was instructed by Middleton to issue checks to DISTONE, a real estate holding company set up to deal with the estate of a former Council member, as a way to circumvent the maximum amount of retirement.
Donahue stated that he was told by Middleton that it was a way for Middleton to earn and still draw retirement, because he was not being adequately compensated for his position with the Town of Williamston.
Donahue stated that actions resulted in the embezzlement of $76,275 by checks written to the corporation. Prosecutors asked for restitution in that amount.
When asked by the judge if the statement was correct, Middleton replied, That is correct.
Middletons attorney, Dick Harpootlian said, I can say, in almost 30 years, this case baffles me and saddens me, more than any case.
This gentleman spent his entire life in public service, and did something he described as stupid. He put his life on the line for his country, worked for the school for 25 years, and coached teams. He was an inspiration to hundreds, thousands of young people in this county.
What he did represents a very small percentage of what he did for that town, Harpootlian said. Working long hours, resulting in a desire for additional compensation.
This was the wrong way to do it. He never attempted to avoid responsibility for what he did.
Harpootlian also told Judge Saunders that Middleton suffers from a number of health problems and that his wife, who was not present, suffers from a medical condition and could not be there.
Approximately 16 members of Grace United Methodist Church attended the proceeding in support of Middleton, who has served on numerous boards at the church.
Marion Middleton, Jr., businessman Richard McClellion, John Geer, and Pastor Karen Radcliff spoke on Middletons behalf.
Radcliff said Middleton served as Chairman of the Board at the church and had seen tremendous growth spiritually in the last six years. We have grown together, not only as a congregation but as a family, she said, before asking the judge to have mercy on him.
Duke Power representative John Geer spoke of the business relationship he had with Middleton, particularly in bringing the Duke Water line toWilliamston. The project, which Middleton pushed for, was to alleviate future problems associated with drought and low water levels at the towns reservoirs.
Harpootlian said, This is a man whose life, but for this act, is blemish free.
The attorney said that under sentencing guidelines, the judge could place him under house arrest or a suspended sentence. He is a gentleman who has built up credits in the bank of life that he ought to be able to draw on. This is a man who has given and given and made a stupid mistake.
He never blamed anyone but himself. He has hurt himself and his family more than he ever imagined.
Solicitor Hodges responded. He has credits in the bank of life, but he also has debits to the bank of public trust. The very laws he fought for are the same he has broken.
It is more important to the community he did serve that he should be held accountable, she said. The state does feel that to send a message to other public officials, we had to hold him accountable.
He drew debits from the bank of public trust just as heavily, Hodges stated.
Before making his ruling, Judge Saunders asknowledged Middletons years of public service and the benefit to fellow humans, which was supported by the words of friends and his attorney.
The public trust, however, is the public trust. It was vested in you and has been tarnished.
Entertainment at the 21st Annual Spring Water Festival will feature a variety of local talent, organizers said, including actors, singers, dancers and musical groups.
The Williamston Heritage Players will present four scenes from their latest production, The Story of Hansel and Gretel on the Amphitheatre stage at 2:30 p.m. Aug. 24.
The Gingerbread Witch, Public Holiday, Tap, Tap, Tap and Hocus, Pocus scenes will give festival goers a preview of the musical which is set to open Aug. 16 at 7:30 p.m. at the historic Pelzer Auditorium. The play will continue the weekend of the 24th.
A karaoke contest and a variety of music will highlight entertainment at the festival, according to organizer Jamie Carter.
A Little Miss Pageant, Palmetto High School Band, Jericho Faith, T. J. Stone and Trilogy will also perform on the Amphitheatre stage.
Trilogy offers a mix of beach, classic rock, funk, blues and country.
Bluegrass music will be featured at the historic depot with the Hall Brothers Bluegrass Gospel, Smith Brothers, Grassroots Exchange, Different Strokes, Shady Grove Express, Stoney Mountain Ramblers and other local talent performing.
Bluegrass pickers interested in an old fashion jam are invited to bring your own acoustic instrument to the park and join in along the creek. For more information contact Jack Ellenburg at 847-6140.
More than 70 crafters are expected to offer their wares.
The 5th annual Spring Water Festival Pageant will also be held at 9 a.m. on festival day.
Contestants should dress in casual summer attire (sundress or short set).
All entry fees along with registration form must be turned in by Friday Aug. 16. Late entries will not be accepted.
Entry fee is $30 per contestant. Registration forms can be picked up at The Journal, Color Fast Screen Printing or The Magic Dance Academy at Carolina Rhythm. For more information call Angela Walker at 847-7827.
The festival will also feature a karaoke and songwriters contest with the winner of the karaoke contest receiving a $300 prize. The winner of the songwriters contest will receive a free day of recording in a recording studio. For information or to sign up call 847-7473.
The Anderson City Technical Rescue Team will conduct a mock air rescue operation at approximately 12 noon on the day of the festival.
The helicopter rescue will involve removing a person from the roof of the old water plant located just behind the main parking area near the historic depot.
Following the mock rescue,the helicopter rescue team will land behind the old water plant and will be on display and available to the public, according to Williamston Fire Chief Steve Ellison, who is helping coordinate the event.
The Williamston Fire Department is again sponsoring the festivals auto show, which will include a $70,000 special edition Thunderbird which will be on display by Foothills Ford.
Antique and classic auto owners may register their vehicles between 8 a.m. and noon. A $10 registration fee will be charged. Awards will be given to the top 50 vehicles. Five specialty awards will be presented.
Persons interested in displaying a customized vehicle in the show should call 847-4155 or 847-4950 for more information.
T-shirts featuring the Williamston Municipal Center (Town Hall) are now available.
The design by Thomas Addison features burgundy and green on a white shirt and ties in with the Towns 150th Anniversary Celebration.
Festival T-shirts sizes small to XL are available for $10 at ERS Video and Appliance and at the Williamston Municipal Center prior to the festival. Childrens sizes are available for $8.
Addison, who has contributed artwork for the Spring Water Festival throughout its history, will also offer limited and signed prints at the festival on Aug. 24.
The Town of West Pelzer will hold a special public meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 20 at 5 p.m. at Town Hall concerning water, sewer and other items related to the operations of the town, according to West Pelzer Mayor Bill Alexander.
Representatives of the Greenville Water System, Western Carolina, and the Appalachian Council of Governments will be present to answer questions the public may have on any of these matters.
During their regular monthly meeting Tuesday, town officials said they are also dealing with water line breaks at several locations within the town.
Town employees have been working overtime to repair water line breaks at Bellview Circle and Diane St., according to Alexander.
The pipes have split underneath the road, he said, due to rusted out threads at the connection points.
Alexander said cutoff valves were not available in this situation and the entire Town system had to be shut down Tuesday night to make the necessary repairs.
West Pelzer police officials were making verbal announcements to citizens Tuesday, warning that the water system would have to be cut off.
Town officials were also considering how to make citizens aware should a similar situation arise in the future.
One suggestion made during the regular meeting of West Pelzer Town Council Tuesday was to assign block captains who would be contacted in an emergency situation.
The captains would in turn phone other residents on the block to inform them of the situation.
In other business, Town Council heard from Harvey Mathias of the South Carolina Local Government Assurance concerning employee health insurance.
Town officials are considering higher deductibles for employees to offset the rising cost of health care insurance.
Council also heard from several citizens concerned with dogs and cats running loose in the town.
The Williamston Heritage Players latest production, The Story of Hansel and Gretel, is set to open Aug. 16 with a 7:30 p.m. performance at the historic Pelzer Auditorium.
The musical is an adaptation and dramatization of the treasured childrens story by the Brothers Grimm with a few of Broadways usual plot twists.
Sent into the woods, Hansel and Gretel meet up with a number of peculiar characters. A fiery troll guards his little wooden bridge. Even more, an articulate owl, a forest sprite and two hobgoblins are in the service of an evil but comical witch. Mayhem ensues when she locks Hansel in a cage and feeds him nothing but cake, and audiences will cheer as Gretel outwits the crone.
The show features such songs as Public Holiday, Hocus Pocus and Raise Your Voices.
The Williamston production showcases Avery Owens as Hansel, Jana Jennings as Gretel and Shannon Faulkner as the Witch.
Also starring are Hayley Meade as Frick, Nancy Bannister as Frack, Jared Fricks as Frederick, Katyln Meyers as Susie, Jillana Darby as Johanna, Ann Cothran as Lydia, Lisa Crisp as Mother and Michael Crisp as Father.
Other cast members include Tonja Gambrell as Troll, Christie Cothran as Owl, Jenny Pate as Dew Princess, Elizabeth Rogers as Echo, Lindsey Meade as Dream Weaver, Adam Cooley as Caspar and Lyla Allen as Katrina.
The Gingerbread Chorus includes Leslie Adams, Catherine Ann Cochrane, Jeffrey Cooley, Austin Crisp, Anna Davis, Andy Dickerson, Megan Ellis, Rebecca Gambrell, Kathryn Hardy, Emily Isom, April ODonnell, Ashley Rhodes, Marlee Rhodes, Grace Rogers, Bailey Clair Stokes and Kaylee Summerlin.
The ensemble features Linda Allen, Erin Clardy, Debbie Cooley, Lindsey Cooley, Beth Dickerson, Allison Hood, Harold Jennings, Logan Jennings, Haley Riddle, Patti Riddle, Chris Roberts, Chael Shirley and Cara Stokes.
Hansel and Gretels director is Becky Owens, whose past directorial experience includes the Heritage Players production of The Velveteen Rabbit. Mary Burns serves as choreographer, with Carol Adams and Carol Pate as musical directors. Stage manager is Danny Owens.
Run dates for Hansel and Gretel are Aug. 16, 17, 23 and 24 at 7:30 p.m., and Aug. 18 and 25 at 2:30 p.m.
Tickets are $10 for adults and 7:50 for seniors and students.
For more information, contact Lynn King, Heritage Players president, at 947-9466.