UNION COUNTY — The case of a former Deputy Clerk of the Union County Clerk of Court’s Office arrested in January for allegedly stealing more than $10,000 from the office’s Domestic Relations Account will go to the grand jury.
Julia Chandler Phipps, 41, 1326 Main Street, Buffalo, was arrested and charged by the Union County Sheriff’s Office with Embezzlement of Public Funds, Misconduct in Office, and Misconduct in Office (Common Law).
In a statement announcing Phipps’arrest, Union County Sheriff David Taylor stated that on July 5, 2017, he requested the assistance of SLED in investigating the theft of monies from the Clerk of Court’s Office. He said the ensuing investigation was conducted jointly by his office, SLED, and State Forensic Auditors from DSS.
The press release stated that investigators determined that more than $10,000 in public funds were taken from the Domestic Relations Account between January 2015 and June 2017. It stated that during this time Phipps was responsible for the deposits into the Domestic Relations Account. The press release stated Phipps was a Deputy Clerk assigned to supervise the Child Support Office, which is under the responsibility of the Clerk of Court. It stated that Phipps failed to properly and faithfully discharge her duties.
According the press release, Phipps, who Taylor said was fired just after the investigation got under way, had served under a former Clerk of Court and an Interim Clerk of Court of Union County. The press release stated that Clerk of Court Melanie Lawson was instrumental in determining the discrepancy of deposits and funds in the Domestic Relations Account and contacted the Sheriff’s Office. It further states that Lawson had been in office just six months and was able to recognize something was wrong with the account.
In addition to the press release announcing her arrest, the Sheriff’s Office also released the warrants for Phipps’ arrest on each of the charges filed against her. All three of the warrants state that during interviews conducted by a SLED agent, Phipps admitted to taking the monies collected for the Domestic Relations Account.
On Monday, Phipps, represented by attorney Andrew Johnson, was in Union County Magistrate’s Court for a pre-trial hearing before Magistrate Jimmy Crocker. Presenting the state’s case was Assistant Solicitor Matthew Hogge of the Sixteenth Judicial Circuit and testifying during the hearing was SLED Special Agent Matthew Davis.
Davis testified that after SLED was contacted by Taylor on July 5, he and another SLED agent met with Sheriff’s Office investigators about the case on July 6. He said that on July 7 he spoke with Phipps with one of the Sheriff’s Office investigators present and that Phipps had told them she’d taken money from the account. Davis said that in her voluntary statement Phipps, who began working for the Clerk of Court’s Office in 2007, said that in 2016 she’d began having financial difficulties and began taking money with the intention of paying it back. He said Phipps said she had never taken money from the office’s Child Support accounts.
When questioned by Johnson, Davis said that Phipps said she’d taken $4,000 and had put back $2,000. Johnson asked if these were the only figures given by Phipps and Davis said they were.
Davis also testified about some aspects of the investigation that are incomplete. In one instance, he said he’d had to interrupt his work in Union County to handle a death investigation in another jurisdiction. In addition, he said he is still waiting on search warrants needed for the investigation.
Johnson also questioned Davis about who else could be handling money related to the account and was told that other employees could take in money and make entries in the account’s log so as to enable it to be balanced each day. Under further questioning by Hogge, Davis said that Phipps had daily responsibility for the account.
Following the presentation of both the state and the defense, Crocker said he found probable cause for the case to go to the grand jury.
Charles Warner can be reached at 864-762-4090.