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Ex-Beaufort Clerk Pleads Guilty to New Charges

CHARLESTON, S.C. (CN) - A former court clerk of Beaufort County pleaded guilty to paying her husband's salary as a drug court employee with $68,500 in federal child support money.

Elizabeth Mason Smith is currently serving five years probation on a suspended sentence after being convicted in September 2009 of embezzlement and misconduct.

She was first indicted on July 30, 2009, while still acting as Beaufort County clerk, for writing herself $23,500 worth of checks from two Clerk's Office accounts between August 2006 and April 2009.

The government indicted Smith again in September 2010 for unlawful conversion of public funds. Federal regulations prohibit the use of federal child-support money for judicial and staff compensation and office-related costs.

Investigators said she nevertheless used the money to pay her husband's salary as a judge on the Beaufort County Drug Court.

U.S. District Judge Sol Blatt Jr. will impose a sentence against Smith, who now lives in Florence, S.C., after the federal Probation Office prepares a presentence report.

"Elizabeth Smith was an attorney and an elected official. The manner in which she violated the public trust is shameful," U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles said in a statement. "As a convicted felon, she will never vote or hold office again. This conviction shows that those who choose to abuse their positions will be held accountable under the law."

Smith could face 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000, plus a special assessment of $100.

In February, the South Carolina Supreme Court revoked Smith's law license. Her husband, Manning Smith, was reportedly removed from office for undisclosed reasons within two weeks of the first indictment.

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