COLUMBUS COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) – Almost four years after he was arrested and accused of fraud and embezzlement, Joey Prince finally had his day in court. The former Columbus County Animal Control director has been pleading his innocence since 2018, and was largely vindicated when prosecutors dropped all the felony charges against him Monday.
Prince was accused of stealing about $1,600 from Columbus County. He has always insisted no money was stolen. But having these felony charges hanging over his head has cost him job offers, and has been financially devastating for his family.
Prince said he had permission to use the money in question to purchase medication for animals at the shelter that is not normally covered by the county budget. Prince said that the money was raised through a GoFundMe drive, and said he has receipts from 2017 to prove that most of it was used for legitimate purposes. But he didn’t have receipts for everything, which is why he says he agreed to plead no contest to a misdemeanor charge of failure to keep trust funds separate by a county officer.
“I didn’t do anything wrong. I have maintained for four years that I did nothing wrong. I was not going to plead guilty to anything because I did not do anything wrong. I did not take any money. I did not misappropriate any funds. This has been a four-year-long process. This has been a very expensive process for me. But I was determined that at the end of it I was not going to [plead] guilty,” Prince told WECT shortly after the plea deal was finalized. The state dismissed two charges of Obtaining Property by False Pretenses and one count of Embezzlement he had been facing.
“I had really hoped I’d be relieved, and instead I’m just angry,” Prince added. “It’s been financially devastating to me and my family. The district attorney dropped all the charges and there is no repercussions for anyone who did this to me.”
When asked for comment on the charges being dropped and the long delay leading up to trial, District Attorney Jon David provided the following statement:
“The COVID-19 pandemic has presented a number of challenges to our court system, particularly with the scheduling of less serious matters where defendants are insistent on receiving a jury trial. We previously offered Mr. Prince the ability to hear this matter at a bench trial in front of a judge only, but he declined this invitation. As you might expect, our ability to convene a jury is limited and this has contributed to more backlog and delay than usual. Despite this challenge, Joey Prince was set number one for a jury trial on today’s date. Prior to the time that a jury was convened, Mr. Prince paid $300 to the Columbus County animal shelter and pled open to the court to the misdemeanor offense of failure to keep trust funds separate from his personal funds.”
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