The man at the center of South Carolina’s ongoing judicial corruption scandal is reportedly at the heart of an ongoing criminal investigation … although according to our sources, the probe has nothing to do with his role in several recent travesties of justice in the Palmetto State.
Powerful lawyer-legislator Todd Rutherford – who sits on the influential S.C. Judicial Merit Selection Commission (SCJMSC) and serves as minority leader of the S.C. House of Representatives – is the focus of an ongoing investigation into allegations tied to his “official duties” as a lawmaker, sources familiar with the status of the inquiry confirmed this week.
The investigation is being led – or at least was being led initially – by agents of the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED), however we have confirmed there is a federal component to the probe. Rutherford’s bank records have reportedly been subpoenaed by at least one law enforcement entity in connection with the inquiry, sources close to the investigation have confirmed.
According to our sources, the probe into Rutherford began in 2021. It focused – originally, anyway – on a scandal over hidden earmarks, or secretive spending appropriations inserted by lawmakers into the annual state budget.
Several lawmakers reportedly sent a letter to S.C. attorney general Alan Wilson asking him to make a referral regarding Rutherford’s earmarks to SLED – which Wilson did. Shortly thereafter, SLED opened a formal investigation into the powerful Richland County leader. And not long after that, the feds reportedly got involved.
“SLED initiated the investigation,” a source close to the probe confirmed, adding the agency and/ or its federal partners later “subpoenaed Todd’s bank records” in connection with the case.
According to our law enforcement and prosecutorial sources, the investigation into Rutherford has largely “flown under the radar” as the high-profile ‘Murdaugh Murders’ crime and corruption saga dominated Palmetto State headlines over the past two years. But it has made steady progress, we are told – and experienced several expansions of its scope.
“It started with earmark stuff,” a source close to the probe confirmed. “But then it started looking into him double-dipping on his campaign account and other (alleged) misconduct.”
SLED declined to comment on the rumored probe. So did the office of U.S. attorney Adair Ford Boroughs. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was not immediately available for comment, nor was Wilson’s office.
Where did all of this start?
RELATED | BLOATED SOUTH CAROLINA BUDGET
In December 2021, reporters Lucas Larson and Andrew Caplan – then working for The (Hilton Head, S.C.) Island Packet and The (Columbia, S.C.) State newspaper, respectively – published an expansive piece on hidden earmarks in the state budget.
Rutherford was their lede …
The story accused the veteran legislator of having “quietly directed hundreds of thousands of (tax) dollars to his now mother-in-law’s small Charleston nonprofit.” Rutherford ultimately “steered” nearly $600,000 of taxpayer money to organizations “connected to his girlfriend, her mother and his ex-wife’s business partner through a budgeting process that is cloaked in secrecy.”
Rutherford rebuked the coverage.
“These are not hidden earmarks,” he said at the time in response to the scandal. “They’re only hidden from the people that aren’t smart enough to know where to look to find it.”
Reached for comment on Thursday morning (August 31, 2023) regarding reports of the investigation into him, Rutherford aggressively defended his budgetary record – including his use of earmarks.
“All of my earmarks are on the table,” Rutherford told me. “To suggest I would have done an earmark to make money is ridiculous. Make money? From whom? Are you serious?”
(Click to view)
Rutherford also told me he welcomed investigative scrutiny of his campaign finance filings.
“As far as my campaign stuff that’s all on the table, too,” he said. “It’s all on the record – all out there. I haven’t received so much as an ethics violation.”
Maybe so … but lawmakers police themselves on ethics in South Carolina. And last time I checked, Rutherford sat on the ethics panel which made those decisions.
As for reports regarding a criminal investigation, Rutherford told me he has had zero contact from investigators at either the state or federal level regarding any inquiry – formal or otherwise – and said he has received no notice from his bank regarding any subpoenas for financial records.
“I can’t stop people from making shit up,” Rutherford told me. “People are trying to make hay on something without any substance so they are just making other stuff up.”
According to the 52-year-old Columbia, S.C. native, “it sounds like people are spreading rumors so someone else can come along and say ‘yeah, I heard that – I told you so.'”
Count on this news outlet to keep our audience up to speed on any new developments related to this inquiry. And as I often note, please remember we have a long-standing open microphone policy which affords anyone named in any of our stories – or anyone with an intelligent take on those stories – the opportunity to address our audience directly. Unfiltered.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children.
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