Former Upstate court worker accused of embezzlement, misconduct

UNION COUNTY, SC (WSPA) – A former Upstate government official is accused of taking thousands of dollars in public funds.

The former deputy clerk of court in Union County is facing embezzlement and misconduct in office charges.

The accusations date back before Melanie Lawson, the current clerk of court, took office in January 2017.

Lawson tells 7 News seeing the charges come to light on Wednesday made for an emotional day. 

Lawson found irregularities that she brought to the attention of the Union County Sheriff’s Office.

Sheriff David Taylor said that’s what prompted law enforcement to launch an investigation last summer.

The S.C. Law Enforcement Division (SLED) and others assisted the sheriff’s office in the investigation.

“We had to bring in the state forensic auditors from DSS,” Sheriff Taylor said.

The sheriff says it was a long process that revealed more than  $10,000 in public funds were missing from the domestic relations account.

“It’s where lawyers come in and pay to have papers served,” Sheriff Taylor explained.

Investigators learned the money was allegedly taken between January 2012 and June 2017. That’s when Julia Phipps was the deputy clerk of court and responsible for deposits into that account.

“There was some maneuvering of funds done and that was how it was being hid,” Sheriff Taylor said.

The sheriff says Phipps confessed to taking the money. She’s charged with embezzlement of public funds and misconduct in office.

The sheriff says Phipps worked under another clerk of court and an interim before Lawson took office. He said Phipps was put on leave and then terminated after the investigation started.

Lawson tells 7 News they implemented changes at the courthouse to help prevent this from happening in the future.

Phipps was released from jail Wednesday on a $30,000 personal recognizance bond.