South Carolina

Former Fort Mill, current charter school coach on leave after arrest in money probe

The former coach of the lacrosse team at Fort Mill High School was arrested Wednesday on charges that he embezzled money from the school athletic booster club and took money for a travel team that was never created, officials said.

Parker S. Thomas, 26, faces eight charges, said Maj. Bryan Zachary of Fort Mill Police Department. Five of the counts are breach of trust for taking more than $2,000 for a purported travel lacrosse team, Zachary said.

Thomas, currently the lacrosse coach and sports information director at Legion Collegiate Academy in Rock Hill, has been placed on administrative leave with pay as the police investigation continues, Legion officials said.

Three charges are for embezzlement after $750 from three checks went missing from the booster club at the high school, Zachary said. Thomas deposited that money into his personal bank account, Zachary said.

“We had two separate investigations going on and both involved the same suspect,” Zachary said.

Police in Fort Mill had been investigating after school officials contacted them about missing money from the booster club, Zachary and schools officials said. Three checks for $250 each were missing, Zachary said.

Because a public entity was deprived of the money, Thomas was charged with embezzlement, Zachary said.

Joe Burke, spokesman for Fort Mill school district, confirmed to The Herald Wednesday night that Thomas formerly was the lacrosse coach at Fort Mill High School and a former employee of the district. The district learned there were “irregularities” with booster club accounts and notified police, Burke said.

Burke said the district is aware Thomas was arrested Wednesday.

“The district was made aware of irregularities involving a former employee and a non-school district account,” Burke said. “The district then reported that to law enforcement.”

The breach of trust charges come from claims from five families who told police they paid Thomas for a travel lacrosse team that was separate from the school lacrosse team, Zachary said. Three families paid $575 and two families paid $300, Zachary said.

“The money was supposed to be for a travel team, covering the costs of fees and equipment,” Zachary said.

Thomas was released Wednesday on a personal recognizance bond after appearing in court, Zachary said.

Michael Brown of Rock Hill, Thomas’s lawyer, said late Wednesday that he was aware Thomas had been charged by police, but his version of events differs from the police account.

“On the charges of breach of trust, Mr. Thomas did not get enough participants to fund a summer lacrosse camp,” Brown said. “He refunded everybody’s money, but some of the checks did not clear due to an accounting error on Mr. Thomas’ behalf.”

As for the embezzlement charge, Brown said the money involved state championship rings and that his office is still investigating.

“The money was for state championship rings and everyone got their rings,” Brown said.

Thomas was a member of Fort Mill High’s 2011 state championship lacrosse team and later became the coach, according to an article in The Herald in April when the team played for the South Carolina state lacrosse championship.

Earlier this year, Legion Collegiate Academy in York County announced Thomas had been hired as lacrosse coach and would have other duties at the new school, including sports information director. On the Legion Academy website, Thomas is listed as both the sports information director and lacrosse coach.

Thursday, Legion principal TK Kennedy told The Herald by email that Thomas has been placed on leave with pay as the law enforcement investigation continues.

“Legion has great respect for Mr. Thomas and surprised to hear about these charges against him,” Kennedy said in a written statement. “Legion will place him on administrative leave with pay.”

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Andrew Dys covers breaking news and public safety for The Herald, where he has been a reporter and columnist since 2000. He has won 51 South Carolina Press Association awards for his coverage of crime, race, justice, and people. He is author of the book “Slice of Dys” and his work is in the U.S. Library of Congress.