This story is part of continuing coverage. We are currently awaiting fulfillment of several public records requests from the county and from a state agency.
A public records request for all calls of alleged crimes at Columbus County Animal Control to the sheriff’s office shows that money and other property were reported missing at least five times at the Animal Shelter since 2014.
Charges were filed on only one of those occasions. Another time, the district attorney’s office refused to prosecute the case.
In one case, a receipt book was apparently altered and glued back together.
The reports show cash, receipt books, a computer, video system and other items were reported stolen in 2014, 2016, and 2018. A dog was also reported stolen by its owner in 2017, but then-director Joey Prince declined to press charges after the reported owner paid $135 in fees.
The reports were released this week as part of ongoing coverage of problems with finances at the shelter.
On Jan. 8, 2015, Director Rossie Hayes contacted the CCSO to report that he suspected an unnamed employee was taking money from the shelter. Hayes told investigators that the amount of cash on hand did not match the receipt book.
The report said that shortly after Hayes found the discrepancy, the receipt book was damaged, and the pages of the dates in question “were now glued together.” Roughly $65 was missing, the report said.
The case was presented to the District Attorney’s Office, but prosecution was refused.
Hayes retired from the shelter in 2015. He died in 2017. Joey Prince was hired to replace Hayes in 2015.
New rules, break-in
Prince immediately set up new protocols for monitoring cash from donations and adoption fees at the shelter, and instructed employees to use a credit/debit card machine for transactions whenever possible.
On April 28, 2016, reports show that Prince called the sheriff’s office to report a possible break-in. The doors and gates of the building were locked but someone gained entry by breaking a window.
Among the items reported stolen were a television, a money bag with approximately $200 in cash and checks, and a laptop owned by shelter employee Loretta Shipman. Shipman told investigators the laptop was used to keep track of records, adoptions and other activities involving animals at the shelter. The case was closed when no leads were developed.
Medications stolen from car
On Sept. 15, 2016, Calvin Norton of Whiteville called 911 to report the theft of 10 bottles of prescription medicine from his vehicle while it was parked at the shelter. Norton would not tell deputies what kind of medications were missing. The pills were last known to be in the vehicle at 2:30 p.m. Sept. 14, and Norton reported the theft the next day, Sept. 15, around 1 p.m.
Prince resigns; receipt book stolen
In August 2017, Prince resigned from Animal Control after a former part-time employee, Whiteville Animal Control Officer Elijah Kemp, said he looked through an office window after hours and observed improper activity. Kemp filed a statement with the county personnel office on Aug. 23 describing the incident.
On Aug. 25, Kemp reportedly went into Prince’s locked office while the shelter manager was out of town. An internal investigation was opened by the City of Whiteville into the incident, and Kemp later resigned from the city. No charges were filed in that incident, and no explanation as ever made public about why Kemp entered the office.
Kemp had previously worked part-time at the shelter, and in his capacity with the city was responsible for taking animals to the shelter afterhours and on weekends. He was prohibited from entering the shelter except during regular business hours after a 2015 incident when he reportedly left a cage unlocked, releasing a bulldog that killed several cats in the building when Kemp was on weekend duty there. Kemp later resigned from the city.
Prince was accused of stealing money from one GoFundMe account set up outside the shelter’s finances to pay expenses not always covered by the shelter. That same account was used for three different fundraisers, Prince said.
Well before his departure from the shelter, Prince said he set up the GoFundMe account separate from Animal Control to raise money for medical bills and equipment not included in the county budget. The account raised $1,488.41 and $110.71, according to report number 17-2354 with the sheriff’s office.
Prince left the shelter Aug. 28, 2017. The actual date of his resignation has been in question since shortly afterward. The embezzlement investigation against Prince was opened Aug. 29, 2017, when County Manager Mike Stephens, acting in his capacity as county attorney, contacted the sheriff’s office about a “possible misrepresentation of funds” at Animal Control. The report does not note how or when Stephens was informed of the alleged embezzlement.
On Aug. 30, 2017, detectives were informed as part of that investigation that a receipt book and “several items” were stolen the night before. The missing items were not detailed, since that investigation is listed as ongoing. The name of the reporting party in that incident was not released.
When he announced his resignation from the county, Prince said on social media that he would return any of the GoFundMe donations to anyone who asked. He said none of the donors requested their money back. Prince then used the funds, along with some from his own pocket, to provide heartworm treatment for two rescue dogs, as well as purchase other supplies.
He took in a total of $2,513 in donations through the GoFundMe, according to receipts Prince provided. Some of the funds were originally raised for a large scale transport of rescue dogs to the Northeastern U.S., Prince said in an email. While the planning on that effort fell through, he used the funds to help pay for transportation for other animals. Prince said he has offered his receipts to the District Attorney’s office, after having originally offered the records to the sheriff’s office before his arrest in 2018.
In May 2018, Prince was arrested on two counts of obtaining property by false pretenses, and one of embezzlement by a government employee He has been out on bond since his arrest.
That case is still pending trial.
This story is part of continuing coverage. We are currently awaiting fulfillment of public records requests from the county and from a state agency.