Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Former police chief gets 12 months for stealing $80,000

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Former Manning Police Chief Gary Blair Shaffer, recently recovered from coronavirus, was sentenced by a federal judge to a year and a day in prison for stealing $80,000 in confiscated drug money on Monday.

During an hour hearing Monday afternoon, Shaffer’s federal public defender lawyer Cody Groeber argued for probation, saying that Shaffer might come down with coronavirus again and has other medical issues.

“An institution like a prison is a terrible place for someone with COVID,” Groeber, who told the judge that Shaffer had had a bad case of COVID-19 and was in the hospital for six days.

But the medical issues were rebutted by Assistant U.S. attorney Brook Andrews, who, present by a remote linkup, told U.S. District Judge Bruce Howe Hendricks that out of some 9 million COVID-19 cases reported so far nationwide, “there have only been two confirmed cases of re-infection. … Re-infections are exceedingly rare.”

Shaffer, 52, pleaded guilty last year to theft of government funds and lying to an FBI agent. The theft charge carries a 10-year maximum sentence, and the lying to an FBI agent has a maximum five year sentence.

Judge Hendricks gave Shaffer a light sentence because he had no prior criminal record, a good record as a 25-year police officer in the town of Manning, is unlikely to commit another crime, poses no threat, has accepted responsibility for the crime and he has paid back, or nearly paid back, the $80,000.

Groeber also had argued that Shaffer’s paying back the restitution deserved mercy. “Mr. Shaffer is not some big shot who could sell his Ferrari and pay restitution,” the lawyer told Judge Hendricks. Shaffer was able to pay back the money because he has had a job while awaiting sentencing, the lawyer said.

But Andrews told the judge that prison would send a message.

“The public needs to know that the people who are entrusted with making the system work are accountable to it as well,” Andrews told the judge.

“He violated the public trust, he violated the rule of law, and he violated his obligations to the (police) department,” Andrews said.

Andrews also called attention to the nature of the crime: Shaffer had stolen the money out of the drug fund in 70 different transactions over three months. When first contacted by the FBI, instead of confessing, Shaffer told the agent an elaborate lie, Andrews said.

“He sent the agent down a rabbit hole of investigation,” Andrews said. “This was not a single act of dishonesty.”

Speaking to the judge, Shaffer apologized for the hurt and shame he had brought to the town of Manning, to his former department and to his family.

Saying he had stolen the money to pay for a “medical issue,” the ex-chief said he accepted full responsibility and remained “mad at myself for what I did.”

“I took an oath when I was sworn in as a police officer back in 1993, and I violated that oath by stealing the money,” Shaffer said. “It was immoral, it was unethical. I chose to do those things for the wrong reason. … It was wrong for me to even try to justify breaking the law because of a medical issue.”

Shaffer, the father of five daughters, told the judge he was grateful to his wife of 26 years, Kimberly, who has stuck by him, and to the FBI agent, Aaron Hawkins, who arrested him.

After he pleaded guilty last year, Shaffer said the FBI agent Hawkins told him, “You can overcome this.”

Those words gave him hope, Shaffer told the agent, who was watching on a remote courtroom link. If somehow he hadn’t been caught, he never would have had a chance of conquering the inner stain of knowing he was thief, Shaffer said. “I feel like I would have gotten away with this, but I never would have been able to overcome this,” Shaffer said.

“Thank you for arresting me,” Shaffer told Hawkins.

Kimberly Shaffer asked the judge to give her husband mercy.

Her voice breaking, she told Judge Hendricks she always told her daughters when they were growing up that, “The choices that you make have consequences. It’s always important to make good choices, the right choices.”

She said that as a police officer, Shaffer always tried to show people he arrested respect and treat them with mercy. Since his arrest, many people have told her “how kindly they feel towards” her husband, she said. “I know he will never do anything like this again,” she said.

Shaffer, the judge noted, had been a good police officer. But, the judge said just before sending him to prison, “I have to do my duty.”

Shaffer said, “I just hope that one day, my wife and five daughters will be proud of me.”

Manning, a town of some 4,000 residents, is the county seat of rural Clarendon County, about an hour’s drive east of Columbia.

The money Shaffer stole was to go to buy equipment for the town’s police department.

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