south carolina maritime museum

The South Carolina Maritime Museum on Front Street in Georgetown.

Officials with the South Carolina Maritime Museum are reviewing the nonprofit's financial practices following the arrest of the organization's former bookkeeper on charges she stole more than $40,000. 

The bookkeeper, 33-year-old Nicole Fant of Myrtle Beach, is charged with criminal conspiracy, fraud and forgery. The Georgetown Police Department said that between March 2018 and April of this year Fant defrauded the museum of $43,838. Another woman, Brittany Pecora of Myrtle Beach, is charged with criminal conspiracy -- police said she and Fant shared a bank account used to funnel the stolen money.

The missing funds were uncovered in late April when the museum's manager, Hope McFaddin, discovered discrepancies while going through checks and invoices. Museum officials then had an audit conducted before filing a police report in early May. The museum also cut ties with Fant, an independent contractor.

Johnny Weaver, president of the museum's board of directors, said the auditor offered suggestions to improve financial oversight.

"We are reviewing and implementing some other things," Weaver said. 

One of those things is having two people sign checks issued by the museum, a practice that had not previously been in place. Weaver said their practice had been to make sure each check was assigned a matching invoice. While reviewing the museum's financials, McFaddin said she came across a payment to a company she did not recognize. Weaver said the check did not have an invoice to go with it.

nicole fant

Fant

"That's what tipped Hope off" to the bigger problem, Weaver said.

McFaddin said she started to find invoices and other documents that had been doctored.

"They were not legitimate," she said.

Fant and Pecora were arrested last week and have since been released on bail.  An attorney for Pecora told WPDE it is an "unspeakable shame" she was charged with a crime "she knows nothing about."

The attorney representing Fant asked people to "reserve judgement" on the case.

Fant had been doing work for the museum for a little over a year, Weaver said. When she first started, she was with an accounting firm. Weaver said Fant eventually left the firm and started working on her own. The museum continued to contract with Fant for the bookkeeping job because everyone liked her and thought she was doing a good job, Weaver said.

"She said she was going out on her own to specialize in nonprofits," he said.

Weaver said the incident has not affected the museum's nonprofit status and that insurance should cover the lost funds.

The Harbor Historical Association of Georgetown is the nonprofit over the museum. It's biggest fundraiser is the Georgetown Wooden Boat Show, held each October along Front Street. The weekend event regularly draws thousands of people to downtown Georgetown. 

Tax records show the organization's revenues total hundreds of thousands of dollars each year, including $457,000 in 2016. 

"We live on donations, so we've got to protect ourselves," Weaver said.