NORTH CHARLESTON – A high-ranking official with the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office was fired last week after defaulting on her student loans.
Sheriff Kristin Graziano told Chief Deputy Joyce Smith in a letter dated April 1 she could no longer legally employ the deputy because of her unpaid student loans.
Under state law a person who “willfully” defaults on certain federal student loans, including law enforcement educational loans, cannot be employed by state agencies unless the loans are rehabilitated.
Smith, 48, was employed by the North Charleston Police Department for nearly 25 years before Graziano hired her upon taking office in January 2021.
Graziano said in the letter she was aware at the time that Smith had defaulted on federally insured student loans, but Smith said it was not willfully done. She said her loans went unpaid because she misunderstood how loan deferrals worked under the CARES Act.
The CARES Act, a $ 2.2 trillion economic stimulus bill passed by Congress at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, suspended payments and waived interest rates on federally held student loans. The program also suspended collection actions and penalties for borrowers in default.
Smith told the sheriff she believed the program offered automatic, penalty-free deferral for her loans, which was not the case.
Smith signed an affidavit agreeing to rehabilitate the defaulted loans, but Graziano said in the termination letter that she had not corrected the matter by January. In fact, the loans had fallen into “collections account” status.
Graziano said in the letter she offered Smith one last chance to bring the loans into compliance but she failed to do so.
The Sheriff’s Office informed the SC Criminal Justice Academy on April 1 that Smith was terminated for violating policy.
Smith could not be immediately reached for comment.
This is a developing story. Check back later for updates.
Reach Steve Garrison at 843-607-1052. Follow him on Twitter SteveGarrisonDT.