Horry County Government’s former head of information security stole hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of IT equipment from the county and sold it online, according to court records and the man’s attorney.
Shawn Petrill, the county’s chief information security officer, pleaded guilty last week to theft of federal program funds, a charge that can carry up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. He is expected to be sentenced in the coming months.
“From the very earliest, we worked with the government to enter a plea,” said Petrill’s attorney Tommy Brittain. “We tried to be cooperative from the very start.”
A 12-year county employee, Petrill was making just over $108,000 a year when he lost his job in 2018 after an unrelated incident. The circumstances that led to Petrill’s exit are not described in his county personnel file, but he signed a separation agreement in September 2018 that forced him to stop working but allowed him to continue being paid into November of that year.
A few weeks after his employment formally ended, officials discovered the theft, according to public records.
During an inventory and accounting audit, the IT department found some items were missing from existing inventory, according to an Horry County police report. Dozens of Cisco 3850 switches and four Cisco 3750 switches were stolen. An audit indicated the items had been purchased between June 2015 and August of 2018.
Brittain, Petrill’s lawyer, said his client had been having financial problems, so he bought IT equipment with public money and then sold it online.
The theft had a $350,000 impact on the county’s budget, county spokeswoman Kelly Moore said via email.
The FBI investigated the case, but little information about the matter was released until Petrill signed his plea agreement in November.
Horry County Council members said they also heard few details about the investigation from county staff. Last week, the council received a briefing about the case in executive session.
Councilman Al Allen, who requested the briefing, said he didn’t realize how much equipment had been stolen from the county until last week’s meeting. Allen said Petrill should have had closer supervision.
“No one within the county structure has been held accountable or has been made to answer for this,” he said. “Except for this guy.”
The county administration has changed since the theft. There’s a different county administrator and three new assistant administrators.
Allen said county officials have also made policy changes to guard against this type of crime. He declined to provide specifics, citing security concerns.
“They’ve instituted a new procurement procedure,” he said. “They’ve got some checks and balances.”
As for the stolen switches, it’s unclear how much of the lost public money, if any, will be recovered.
Petrill’s plea agreement requires that he pay restitution, and last week a federal judge issued a forfeiture order for the government to try to seize any of the proceeds from the theft.
But Brittain said he doesn’t know what his client has left.
“I don’t know if he can do it,” he said of paying restitution. “He certainly wants to do it. … But like I said, you can’t give back what you no longer have.”