Ink runs dry on toner bandit

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Clarice Smith wasn’t charged with writing herself a $13,000 check when she walked into District Judge Eddie Hardaway’s courtroom on Tuesday. That might have made more sense.

Instead, Smith was charged, and subsequently convicted, of forging a $13,000 check to an office-supply company. For sending so much money the company’s way, Smith was awarded with all sorts of promotional gifts in 1999.

In a case that has lingered in district court for more than four years, Smith was a former administrative assistant to the Sumter County Commission. While holding that position, she began ordering fax and printer toner cartridges. And apparently, she ordered them en masse. Better yet, she ordered cartridges that weren’t even compatible with the lone printer and fax machine in the commission office.

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“It looks like she was making eight or nine purchases a month, spending tens of thousands of dollars on this toner,” said District Attorney Greg Griggers, who won a conviction on second-degree forgery charges against Smith on Tuesday.

Upon purchasing the cartridges that worked nowhere in the Sumter County Commission office, Smith had maintenance men carry them upstairs into the attic for storage.

“Each time she made these big purchases, she would get a free gift,” Griggers said.

According to an audit of the Sumter County Commission, Smith apparently met the Santa Claus of electronics. In return for her large purchases, Smith was given:

A calling card

An AM/FM walkman radio

A five-inch TV

A CD player and single-cassette tape recorder

A 13-inch TV

A cordless phone

A fax machine

A printer

A 19-inch TV

A camcorder

And an external CD RAM for a computer.

In the trial Tuesday, Smith was convicted of forging the name of former Sumter County Commissioner Ben Walker’s name on the $13,000 check.

“I think [Walker] went down and started pulling invoices, and she knew what he was doing,” Griggers said. “Because of that, she couldn’t go and ask him to sign the check [which was required], so she forged his name.”

Upon discovery of the forgery, Griggers said Smith later admitted her guilt to Walker and the rest of the county commission, including Aubrey Ellis, who testified on Tuesday.

According to Griggers, this isn’t the bottom of the barrel in terms of charges against Smith, either.

In all, prosecutors believe Smith was involved in the theft of at least $97,000 from the county commission. That charge, first-degree theft, has not come up for trial yet, and Griggers said there were too many differences in the cases to prosecute them at the same time.

While Griggers said he would seek a guilty plea from Smith before her next trial, he said he is unclear of what sentence he will seek on the forgery conviction. Last year, Griggers also won a conviction against another government employee convicted of stealing from Sumter County.

“We’ve got to do something to punish these people,” Griggers said. “They need to know that if they steal from the public, they’re going to be held responsible.”

With the forgery conviction, Smith could face anywhere from one to 10 years in prison.