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SLED Investigating Alleged Horry County Extortion Attempt

Statewide law enforcement agency launches formal probe of supposed shakedown …

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Agents of the South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) are investigating an alleged shakedown attempt involving the newly sworn-in county council chairman in Horry County, S.C.

News of this alleged shakedown – which was exclusively reported by this news outlet earlier today – has prompted a firestorm of controversy along the Palmetto State’s coast as new chairman Johnny Gardner prepares to take office.

According to SLED spokesman Thom Berry, the alleged shakedown has also prompted a formal law enforcement inquiry.

Berry told this news outlet on Thursday afternoon that SLED had “received a verbal request from the Horry County administrator,” Chris Eldridge, earlier in the day.

“We are investigating and have assigned an agent to the case,” Berry told us.

The alleged plot involving Gardner was detailed in a five-page memorandum sent by Horry County attorney Arrigo Carotti late Wednesday to members of county council.  The memo references a recorded conversation between Luke Barefoot – Gardner ’s aide-de-camp – and a pair of economic developers whose organization, the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation (MBREDC), receives $1.1 million in annual tax revenue from the county.

According to the memo, the conversation allegedly centered around an attempted extortion attempt in which Barefoot promised one of the economic developers – MBREDC president and CEO Sandy Davis – that she could “head off” negative coverage about herself and her organization by paying $40,000 to the incoming chairman’s political consultant, Conway, S.C.-based advisor Donald Smith.  It was further suggested that the payment could be disguised in such a way as to give her “political cover.”

Gardner was present at the meeting where this alleged shakedown took place.

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