New charge added in 2018 Animal Control case

Joseph David Prince (CCSO photo)
Joseph David Prince (CCSO photo)

Former Animal Control Director Joseph David Prince was served today (Thursday) with a single misdemeanor warrant for failure to keep trust funds separate. He was released on a unsecured $1,000 bond.

A grand jury handed down the indictment last week. The charge came as Prince, who resigned in 2017, was heading for court Monday on charges that he allegedly stole $1,500 from a GoFundMe account when he was director. That case has been continued numerous times by the District Attorney’s Office since Prince was arrested in 2018.  

Prince was accused of taking money from a GoFundMe account he set up outside of the shelter’s finances. The funds were used for supplies and care for several animals awaiting rescue. When Prince left the shelter, he told the press and announced on social media that he would return any donations upon request. He said no one made such a request.

“I have receipts to show what the money was used for,” Prince said. “Some of that money was donated by me personally.”

The case was yet another scandal at the often-troubled shelter.

Finances were muddled at the shelter for years before Prince took over. An account book was stolen from the shelter during a break-in several days after Prince left the county’s employment. Mike Stephens, who was county attorney at the time and later became county manager, said that without the book the shelter could not be audited.

Questions still remain about why no deposits were made for the first three months of the tenure of his replacement, Loretta Shipman. Shipman served in a number of capacities at the shelter before being promoted to director in 2017. She was hired by the late Rossie Hayes, who preceded Prince. 

Shipman resigned earlier this year due to health reasons, shortly after the department was placed under control of the sheriff’s office in March. In one of his first moves as head of the department, Sheriff Jody Greene put strict new financial policies in place.

In an unusual development, Det. Paul Rockenbach and then-Capt. Jason Soles said in a signed statement that they were instructed by then-Sheriff Lewis Hatcher and former County Manager Mike Stephens to stop investigating the shelter’s finances after Prince was arrested. Based on the number of animals reported as adopted out, potentially thousands of dollars of adoption fees from 2015 through 2018 have not been accounted for.

The shelter is primarily funded through the county budget. Adoption fees generally make up a small amount of the annual revenue. County records show the shelter’s proposed budgets and actual expenditures ranged from $274,893 and  $266,815 in 2016 to $373,966 and $196,600 in 2019-20.

Fines, adoption charges and rabies fees ranged from $15,801 to $9,296 from Fiscal 2014-15 through Fiscal 2018-19. State figures for 2018 alone show the county adopted 1,134 dogs and 1,095 cats to new homes. Shipman at that time said the shelter had a zero euthanasia rate for adoptable animals. 
At $135 per dog and $85 per cat, full payment for those animals would have produced $153,090 and $93,075 respectively for that year alone. If all the animals had been taken by rescue organizations at a reduced rate of $10, dogs would have generated $11,340 and cats, $10,950. 

Prince had requested the county perform a more formal audit and institute new policies for adoptions and finances for the shelter before he resigned. That request, along with numerous other emails between Prince and other county officials, were apparently deleted. 

The case against Prince revealed that for years, the county did not save emails as required by state public records laws. 

Prince has steadfastly said that then-County Manager Bill Clark gave him permission in an email to set up the GoFundMe. In October 2019, a Superior Court judge instructed the county to produce the emails or explain why they were missing. Then-County Attorney Amanda Prince said the county did not have emails from the time of Joseph Prince’s employment. A state law requiring the preservation of emails as part of the public record was passed in 2008.

Prince is now scheduled to go to trial in January, nearly four years after his arrest.

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About Jefferson Weaver 790 Articles
Jefferson Weaver is the managing editor of columbuscountynews.com and news director for WTXY radio. He can be reached at 910.632.4965, or by email at jeffersonweaver@columbuscountynews.com.