Post Tagged with: "Johnny Gardner"

County Attorney Tried to Directly Influence SLED Investigation

March 23, 2019 11:01 AM
County Attorney Tried to Directly Influence SLED Investigation

New information has surfaced that demonstrates Horry County attorney Arrigo Carotti not only attempted to tell SLED investigators what direction their investigation of Horry County Chairman Johnny Gardner should take but also what conclusions they should and should not draw as a result.

Allegations of extortion against Gardner, began with a five-page memo written by Carotti, from December 14–19, 2018, in concert with input from county administrator Chris Eldridge. The memo also attempted to implicate Luke Barefoot, Donald Smith and myself in this fictitious plot.

Eldridge sent the Carotti memo to SLED December 20, 2018 requesting the agency investigate the allegations, but only after the memo was leaked to and published by a Columbia internet media outlet early in the morning of December 20th.

Eldridge told county council members, during a March 5, 2019 special meeting of council, he sent the memo to SLED only after it was leaked in the media because “he didn’t want to be accused of a cover up.”

Before the results of the SLED investigation were made public, an attorney friend of mine told me his theory on the entire affair was that a civil conspiracy plot had taken place among players who were willing to go to any length to keep Gardner from taking office on January 1, 2019. Are we talking “Deep County” here?

With more and more journalists seeking additional information about the allegations against Gardner through Freedom of Information Act requests and questions of the various people included in this saga, new revelations have come to light in recent days that add significant credence to this theory.

Carotti’s original five-page memo is based completely on hearsay about supposed conversations, none of which Carotti nor Eldridge were party to. In his memo, Carotti states he began writing it on December 14th “as a result of events that have taken place since December 5 as memory fades over time and this debacle is broadening.”

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SC Supreme Court Overturns SkyDive MB Dismissal

March 17, 2019 3:47 AM
SC Supreme Court Overturns SkyDive MB Dismissal

By a 4-1 decision, the S. C. Supreme Court overturned decisions at the District Court and Appeals Court levels giving SkyDive Myrtle Beach the opportunity to prove its case in court.

The details of the case have never been heard as Horry County was successful at using some legal hocus pocus at the lower court levels to keep from allowing the case to go forward.

That is not the result now as the case, SkyDive Myrtle Beach v. Horry County et al, has now been remanded back to the District Court and will go on the trial roster with discovery pending immediately.

This means the case, once described by Horry County Attorney Arrigo Carotti as “rightfully dismissed by all who have discerned the true set of affairs,” was not treated in that fashion by the Supreme Court.

Referring to SkyDive Myrtle Beach owner Aaron Holly, myself and others, Carotti wrote the following to a council member inquiring about the case:

“On Aug 15, 2017, at 11:24 AM, Carotti, Arrigo wrote:

The misrepresentation of facts and the law has been ongoing on the part of Mr. Holly, misguided bloggers, and Holly surrogates for several years now, involving universally unsuccessful litigation by Holly, and pending litigation against the FAA, the State of South Carolina, Horry County, officials and employees. There have been no new admissions, the FAA’s and County’s sound positions in the matter remaining the same.  Defamatory commentary on the part of Holly and his surrogates also has been ongoing and is expected to continue, but has been rightfully dismissed by all who have discerned the true set of affairs, borne out in voluminous court documents and public records.

Arrigo P. Carotti / County Attorney”

The original case was filed on February 28, 2014 against Horry County under the general court classification “Unfair Trade Practices.” It alleged a pattern of harassment by the County and its Department of Airports (HCDA) with the ultimate goal of removing SDMB from Grand Strand Airport (GSA) as the original complaint states:

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Eldridge and His Band of Followers

March 13, 2019 3:52 AM
Eldridge and His Band of Followers

It has been one week since six members of Horry County Council blindly followed the lead of administrator Chris Eldridge with the story pitched by Eldridge about how and why he called for a SLED investigation with false allegations against Chairman Johnny Gardner.

Last week’s farce seemed more like River City than Horry County with Eldridge playing the part of Harold Hill.

But that is exactly what happens when council members are unwilling to ask questions of the administrator about his story or give more than a cursory glance at the SLED report and the tape recording at its center.

Prior to a November 30, 2018 lunch meeting between Gardner, Luke Barefoot and Sandy Davis and Sherri Steele of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation (EDC) Eldridge already had his narrative established of what would be told to SLED 20 days later.

This is obvious from the sworn statements given to SLED investigators by Eldridge and Davis. Almost immediately after the lunch meeting ended, Eldridge peppered Davis with specific questions about Donald Smith, supposed stories that were supposed to be written by me, payments to the Beach Ball Classic and a statement by Eldridge about funneling money to Smith.

Eldridge told SLED Davis was “upset” after the meeting. Davis told SLED the meeting went well and EDC board chairman Neyle Wilson said Davis said the same to him and his interpretation of the meeting was quite the opposite of that of Eldridge.

Nineteen days after the meeting, Eldridge, attorney Arrigo Carotti, council members Mark Lazarus and Gary Loftus, Wilson, Davis, Steele and Fred Richardson of the EDC listened to the portion of the recording of the meeting that was pertinent to Eldridge’s false allegations.

According to Davis and Wilson, Eldridge was the only member of the group that “thought he heard something” on the tape to support his allegations. The others said there was nothing there.

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Eldridge’s Tangled Web of Contradictions

March 10, 2019 4:31 AM
Eldridge’s Tangled Web of Contradictions

Horry County Administrator Chris Eldridge spun a tangled web of contradictions with his responses to council at last week’s special council meeting during which Eldridge told his version of how SLED was called to investigate Chairman Johnny Gardner.

Eldridge was grilled by council members Al Allen, Johnny Vaught, Danny Hardee, Orton Bellamy and Paul Prince on why all members of council were neither consulted prior to calling for a SLED investigation nor told about a request to SLED after it was made.

Most of council had to read about the matter being referred to SLED and SLED investigating the allegations in articles published by Columbia media outlet Fitsnews. And it was those articles that caused Eldridge the most difficulty last week.

As demonstrated by his December 12, 2018 email to Neyle Wilson and Sandy Davis of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation, county attorney Arrigo Carotti, county chairman Mark Lazarus and council member Gary Loftus, Eldridge already had his story firmly in mind about what happened during a lunch meeting between Gardner, Luke Barefoot, Davis and her co-worker Sherri Steele.

Eldridge accused EDC of not allowing him access to a tape recording of the meeting after Wilson had already offered twice to allow Eldridge to listen to the recording in an email of December 7, 2018 with a follow up email December 12th. It was Wilson’s December 12th email that elicited Eldridge’s confusing accusations to Wilson.

One other interesting point, while Eldridge used the business emails of Wilson, Davis and Carotti, he used the personal emails of Lazarus and Loftus. Was he trying to hide this from other council members?

After ultimately listening to the recording on December 19, 2019, Eldridge sent a five-page memo, authored by Carotti, by email to all council members after 6 p.m. at night. The Carotti memo was leaked to Fitsnews virtually immediately and appeared less than 12 hours later on the media outlet’s website.

Eldridge stated several times during the special council meeting that no council members other than Lazarus and Loftus knew about his allegations until they received Carotti’s memo.

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SLED Said NO, Eldridge Gotta Go, Worley Nowhere to Go

March 7, 2019 2:01 PM
SLED Said NO, Eldridge Gotta Go, Worley Nowhere to Go

As statements at the special county council meeting of March 5, 2019 bring to light, we have still not heard the truth about why allegations were made against Chairman Johnny Gardner before he took office, about why SLED was called in to investigate the allegations and about who participated in what now appears to be a conspiracy to keep Gardner from ever taking office.

It has always been a mystery of why the Carotti memo was leaked to Fitsnews and who leaked it? The memo relates a version, based on hearsay, about what took place at a meeting between Gardner, Luke Barefoot and Sandy Davis and Sherri Steele of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation during which, Eldridge alleges to this day, possible illegal comments were made.

The only logical explanation of why it was leaked was to get the discussion into the public domain. Once it was in the public domain, especially with it being leaked to a media outlet that borders on the sensational with its stories, there was a virtual guarantee it would be picked up by other media spreading the story.

The story became Gardner’s name linked with the word “extortion” before he ever took office. I believe leaking the memo was intentional and there was a hope that Gardner could be prevented from taking office, thereby overturning the will of the voters.

I have transcribed what I believe are key portions of Tuesday’s special meeting.

The following transcription begins at 1:02:01 of the special meeting of council on March 5, 2019:

Al Allen: Question, you mentioned earlier that some council members knew about this and this tape. I can understand councilman Loftus because he was on the EDC board and I can understand Mark because he was on the EDC board. You mentioned councilman Worley and you mentioned councilman Servant. Now how did they know and the rest of this council didn’t know?

Chris Eldridge: No they didn’t know. It was after the memo from Arrigo Carotti went out that I heard from council members that said ‘that needs to go to SLED.’

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Council Splits Vote Eldridge Survives for Now

March 6, 2019 6:36 PM
Council Splits Vote Eldridge Survives for Now

Horry County Council voted 6-6 on the question of whether to fire administrator Chris Eldridge during its special meeting on the question Tuesday afternoon.

Eldridge survived, but barely and it is obvious he does not have the support of a majority of council going forward. Even the six who voted no on the question of firing Eldridge did not appear to be acting out of a conviction that he needed to stay.

The opposition was led by council member Dennis DiSabato who has said he will never support anything by that SOB Gardner. DiSabato spent most of his time attacking Gardner including accusing him of being involved in a ‘pay to play scheme’ even though SLED and the Fifteenth Circuit Solicitor have already said nothing violating the law happened.

Council members Bill Howard, Cam Crawford and Tyler Servant said nothing in support of Eldridge. That’s four out of six who were basically mute on Eldridge while council members Harold Worley and Gary Loftus gave lukewarm support to Eldridge.

What was apparent from comments and questions from council during the two hour meeting was that six members of council firmly believe Eldridge acted unprofessionally and inappropriately in calling for a SLED investigation on new Chairman Johnny Gardner.

The SLED findings and conclusion of Fifteenth Circuit Solicitor Jimmy Richardson were that nothing inappropriate happened when Gardner and his business partner Luke Barefoot met with EDC executives Sandy Davis and Sherri Steele.

Davis and Steele both told SLED the very same thing when they were interviewed during the investigation process.

Council member Danny Hardee said it best when he told Eldridge he (Eldridge) was the only one who thought ‘he heard something’ in the recording of the conversation.

As the record shows, Eldridge already had his mind made up as to his own set of facts when he sent an email to EDC board chairman Neyle Wilson on December 12, 2018 even though Eldridge did not listen to the recording until December 19, 2019.

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Tomorrow’s Special Council Meeting, Gardner and the People v. DiSabato

March 4, 2019 12:33 PM
Tomorrow’s Special Council Meeting, Gardner and the People v. DiSabato

Horry County Council will hold a special meeting tomorrow to discuss the SLED report and the part played by Administrator Chris Eldridge in taking false allegations to SLED in order to prompt an investigation of Chairman Johnny Gardner.

It is obvious from the SLED report and lack of evidence of any wrongdoing, Eldridge tried to set up Gardner in order to advance a particular agenda.

What is that agenda? It appears to be to subvert the will of the tens of thousands of voters who put Gardner in office in order to effect much needed change in the way the county was being run.

The agenda includes attempting to guarantee construction of Interstate 73 while ignoring the infrastructure already in place. The recent flooding in three of the last four years demonstrates there is immediate need for improvements and flood mitigation on U.S. 501, S.C. 22 and S.C. 9 as well as needs for improvements on Hwy 90 and Hwy 905.

It includes ignoring the needs for increased staffing for public safety departments while pushing the purchase of $12 million of swamp land for some kind of half-baked wetlands mitigation scheme.

It includes alienating an overwhelming majority of county employees by mistaking the title administrator for dictator.

It includes picking a fight with Treasurer Angie Jones over the addition of one person in her office while costing the county more money in legal fees than would have been spent to fund the position as well as attempting to dictate to other countywide elected officials while only filling an appointed position.

It includes a half-baked scheme to extend the collection of hospitality fees to fund the I-73 project that the cities are in the process of destroying, thereby losing a potential source of revenue that could have benefited the citizens of the entire county by helping fund some of the above mentioned needs.

It includes never taking a serious look at how impact fees could be used in order to keep current residents from having to fund goods and services for new development.

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Recording Confirms No Extortion Attempt

March 2, 2019 8:40 AM
Recording Confirms No Extortion Attempt

A recording that Horry County Administrator Chris Eldridge and Horry County Attorney Arrigo Carotti used as a centerpiece of evidence for their allegations of wrongdoing by Horry County Council Chairman Johnny Gardner proves the allegations were entirely false.

The full recording of the lunch meeting between Gardner, his business partner Luke Barefoot and Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation (EDC) executives Sandy Davis and Sherri Steele became entered the public arena yesterday.

The recording was supposedly the ‘smoking gun’ that would prove the Eldridge and Carotti tale of, as Eldridge described in an email, “asking for thousands of dollars to be funneled” to Donald Smith is nowhere to be heard.

What the administrator and attorney believed (hoped?) would add credence to their allegations actually proved how entirely false they were.

I listened to the entire one hour and seven minute recording. Generally it reveals a pleasant lunch meeting whose purpose was to familiarize the incoming council chairman with the workings of the EDC, its current efforts to recruit jobs and the uses of its budget.

There is an approximately four minute segment in which Barefoot and Davis discuss the possibility of contracting with Smith for public relations work for the EDC. Davis explained the procedure for submitting a proposal to the EDC and Barefoot said he understood the EDC procedures. Davis said she would be open to receiving a proposal.

At no time was there ever any threat or other effort to compel Davis to do anything and no mention of payment of thousands of dollars to Smith. Gardner said nothing during that segment of the conversation.

Not ones to let little things like facts get in the way of their efforts to discredit Gardner, Carotti authored a five-page memo laying out the case, which relied entirely on hearsay ‘to the best of Carotti’s recollection’, and Eldridge reported an alleged extortion attempt by Gardner to SLED.

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SLED Said NO! Chris and Arrigo Gotta Go

March 1, 2019 4:32 AM
SLED Said NO! Chris and Arrigo Gotta Go

Fifteenth Circuit Solicitor Jimmy Richardson issued a press release and report Thursday evening which included a letter to SLED stating, “Based on the information you uncovered and provided in your report of this investigation, there is no credible evidence of extortion by Luther “Luke” Barefoot or Johnny Gardner…”

A link to the entire 41 page report appears at the end of this story.

Richardson’s report brings to a close an investigation into an alleged extortion attempt by Horry County Council Chairman Johnny Gardner and his business partner Luke Barefoot.

The allegations were reported to SLED by Horry County Administrator Chris Eldridge and supported by a five-page memo authored by Horry County Attorney Arrigo Carotti.

The allegations centered around comments made, or more appropriately stated not made, during a business meeting at Rivertown Bistro in Conway. Present at the meeting were Gardner, Barefoot, Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Corporation President Sandy Davis and MBREDC Director of Investor Relations Sherri Steele. The meeting was audio recorded and the recording was a key piece of evidence in determining what had not taken place – namely any extortion attempt.

As the Richardson release stated, “The recording of the conversation is consistent in form and content with what Davis, Steele, Barefoot and Gardner described to you in their individual interviews about what was discussed and the manner in which it was discussed.”

The report goes on, “President Davis never told anyone that she felt pressured. President Davis never told anyone that they tried to extort money.”

Director Steele said, “We never felt threatened or felt like we had to hire them or pay them any money.”

All four participants reported that it was “a positive meeting.”

As the report states, “Davis and Steele repeatedly state they were not threatened or extorted and they are the sole eyewitnesses to the event, or non-event as the case may be.”

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SLED Report in Review by Solicitor

February 22, 2019 5:00 PM
SLED Report in Review by Solicitor

The SLED investigation report into allegations of wrongdoing by Horry County Council Chairman Johnny Gardner was delivered to the solicitor’s office late Thursday afternoon, Fifteenth Circuit Solicitor Jimmy Richardson confirmed to Grand Strand Daily today.

Richardson will receive a full briefing from SLED agents before releasing a statement about his conclusions, probably Monday.

The report included videotapes of all interviews conducted by SLED in the investigation, a complete copy of the recording of a November 30, 2018 meeting between Sandy Davis and Sherri Steele of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation and Gardner and his business partner Luke Barefoot and other items related to the investigation.

According to Richardson, the report was subjected to peer review before its release, which means an agent not involved in the initial investigation checked the report for accuracy in its findings.

The attempt to smear Gardner was initiated by Horry County Administrator Chris Eldridge and Horry County Attorney Arrigo Carotti with a memo sent by Carotti, with the full concurrence of Eldridge, to council members after 6 p.m. December 19, 2018.

Before 6 a.m. December 20, 2018, the memo and a story connecting the words “Gardner” and “extortion” appeared on the website of a Columbia media outlet. The media outlet is the same one that attempted to smear Nikki Haley with allegations of illicit affairs when she was running for governor in 2010.

The less than 12 hours, evening and night hours, is much too tight for anything other than a pre-planned leak of the Carotti memo, labeled “Attorney Client Privileged”, and the accompanying sensationalized story.

Access to the memo was initially limited to the 12 members of council in December 2018 plus Eldridge and Carotti. Who leaked the memo? I can think of only three of the original 14 who could possibly think they would benefit from such a leak.

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