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Sheriff: Madison County will recover most of $2.7 million sent to cyber scammer

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Madison County is in the process of recovering a bulk of the $2.7 million that had been sent to a cyber scammer posing as a legitimate vendor.

Last Monday, Madison County Board of Supervisors President Gerald Steen announced that the county was the victim of a cyber scam. The scammer was fraudulently posing as Jay Hemphill of Hemphill Construction — a Richland-based company that is currently being contracted by the county to work on Reunion Parkway — and had received the large sum of cash for services that had not been performed.

One week later, Sheriff Randy Tucker took the podium to deliver an update on the situation. The sheriff said that the county had recouped one payment of just over $128,000 and is working to reclaim another payment of $1.58 million. In addition, law enforcement spotted an additional $500,000 belonging to the county sitting in a frozen bank account. In total, Tucker is confident that Madison County will bring back at least $2.2 million of the swindled funds.

“Any time money leaves an institution, it’s like water hitting concrete. It goes in every direction,” Tucker said during Monday’s board meeting. “Tracking that is a process. It’s a process that’s ongoing. The investigation is ongoing.”

The scammer initially emailed the county’s purchasing clerk seeking the money. That message was then forwarded to Madison County Comptroller Na’Son White, who is said to have sent the funds to the fraudulent vendor, despite the company’s president and CEO being Richard Rula, not Jay Hemphill.

The following three payments were made:

  • Payment one — $128,989.97 — sent on February 20
  • Payment two — $1,073,870.66 — sent on March 5
  • Payment three — $1,538,383.06 — sent on March 12

After the first two payments were delivered, the fraudster’s bank, Citizens Bank, returned the third payment on March 11. The comptroller reached out to the scammer and was given instructions as to how to send the money to a Bank of America account ahead of the third payment.

The fraud was detected on March 19 after Hemphill Construction representatives notified the comptroller that they had not been paid.

County officials noted that the invoices presented to the comptroller by the fraudulent actor looked legitimate and only had one discrepancy. The scammer’s email ended in “.com,” and not Hemphill Construction’s “.us” suffix.

Tucker does not believe there was any criminal intent behind the actions of White or any other county official, but he did call for stricter vetting to take place before large amounts of money are sent out to third parties.

The state’s attorney general and auditor as well as the FBI and Secret Service are assisting with the investigation.

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