NORTH CHARLESTON — A senior Charleston County Sheriff’s Office official was fired last week after defaulting on his student loans.
Sheriff Kristin Graziano told Chief Deputy Joyce Smith in a letter dated April 1 that she could no longer legally employ the deputy due to her unpaid student loans.
Under SC law, a person who “voluntarily” defaults on certain federal student loans, including law enforcement student 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 when she took office in January 2021.
Graziano said in the letter that she knew at the time that Smith had defaulted on federally insured student loans, but Smith said it was not done voluntarily. She said her loans were not repaid because she misunderstood how loan deferrals work 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 eliminated interest rates on student loans held by the federal government. The program also suspended collection actions and penalties for defaulting borrowers.
Smith told the sheriff that she believed the program offered an automatic, penalty-free deferral for her loans, which it did not.
Smith signed an affidavit agreeing to rehabilitate the delinquent loans, but Graziano said in the termination letter that she had not rehabilitated her loans in January. In effect, the loans had been upgraded to “collection account” status.
Graziano said in the letter that she offered Smith one last chance to bring the loans into compliance, but did not.
The sheriff’s office notified the SC Criminal Justice Academy on April 1 that Smith had been fired for violating the policy.
Smith could not immediately be reached for comment.
This is a developing story. Check later for updates.
To reach Steve Garrison at 843-607-1052. Follow him on Twitter @SteveGarrisonDT.