Crime & Courts

Extortion In The Pee Dee: Law Firm Probes Potential Corruption, Deceptive Practices

“I think I need another $1,000 cash …”

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What happens when a South Carolina businessman succumbs to alleged extortion while attempting to revitalize a rural municipality? He’s purportedly asked to sign a nondisclosure agreement before civic henchmen request another kickback. 

Within days of Steve Edwards exposing the potential scheme, he was supposedly accosted by public servants and general contractors inside his of commercial property within the City of Dillon. According to Edwards, the posse vowed to rescind his construction permits for 111 North Railroad Avenue after months of cash-only demands with minimal explanation.

Following the confrontation, Edwards was approached by yet another alleged participant of the convoluted financial scheme: his former contractor. According to documents obtained by FITSNews, Doug Miller of Miller’s Plumbing & Electric told Edwards he feared repercussion and offered to salvage the ill-fated project on behalf of another contractor … for $5,000 cash.

At current, the reservoir of allegations against the city — and its code enforcement director, specifically — are under investigation by an experienced litigator in The Midlands region of South Carolina. Accordingly, we join the Connell Law Firm in posing this question to city officials — cui bono?  Or, “who benefits?”

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THE GOOD OL’ BOY NETWORK …

When Edwards purchased the effectively condemned building this year, his plan was to convert the structure into a two-story hotel and houseroom. City officials graciously rezoned the property to accommodate the project — which was to be reimbursed with $50,000 from the Dillon Historic Preservation Grant (“DHPG”) program.

If you recognize the grant at issue, it’s likely because former Dillon mayor Corey Jackson was arrested on four counts of forgery related to the same program and property in August 2023. Jackson — previously charged with 11 counts of first-degree sexual exploitation of a minor in May 2019 — was suspended from office upon his swear-in ceremony within the same month.

According to the latest probable cause affidavits, Jackson submitted four pre-approved applications for reimbursement from the DHPG — a program financed by the state and offered by the city to assist local business owners with property repairs. The 28-year-old was charged with forging every estimate across two of his properties, which included 111 North Railroad Avenue.

Jackson later pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor counts of communicating obscene messages without consent and forgery. As a condition of his plea deal, you can find him on the South Carolina sex offender registry (SOR).

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Edwards purchased the downtown parcel four months after Jackson’s failed financial scheme. The businessman now stands to lose hundreds upon thousands of dollars for what we can only assume is failure to comply with the “good ol’ boy network.”

Benny Genwright is the director of code enforcement and planning for Dillon. According to documents, Genwright informed Edwards he was required to hire a general contractor to procure building permits for his commercial project. Subsequently, the trusted public servant introduced Edwards to Monty Grey of Monty Grey Jr. Construction.

The three men purportedly met outside of Genwright’s city government office for a meeting he brokered. By way of introduction, Grey allegedly told Edwards that he needed $1,000 in cash to secure the necessary building permits — but that it was Edwards’ responsibility to acquire workers and ensure their performance. Under Genwright’s trusted supervision, Edwards agreed to pay the initial ransom.

Upon the direction of his newfound general contractor, Edwards rendezvoused with Grey at the soon-to-be damned property. According to documents, he ordered Edwards to approach his truck and hand over the cash which was counted on-site. Immediately thereafter, Grey reportedly told Edwards, “I think I need another $1,000 cash.”

The second ransom was provided without contest following another walk to the bank. 

(Click to View)

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Over the following weeks, Edwards worked to secure his own contact with electricians, carpenters, roofers and tradesmen alike. At no point in time did Grey perform his pre-paid duties or work to secure secondary quotes — later discovered to be a prerequisite for the DHPG. That being said, Grey did introduce Edwards to Miller, the plumber we mentioned earlier. 

As documents allege, Miller also required $1,000 in cash to obtain plumbing and electrical permits accompanied by nonexistent oversight for either projects. The functions were to simultaneously go unsupervised by Grey and therefore Genwright.

Are you starting to see a pattern here?

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THE ALLEGED SCHEME UNRAVELS …

At an undetermined time, someone lodged a “complaint” against Miller for starting work on the project in late-April — supposedly earlier than noted in Edwards’ grant application. Genwright explained to Edwards that due to the premature start date, Miller’s ongoing work was no longer refundable by the DHPG. Coincidentally, the alleged violation does not appear to have ever been documented, per Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

Moreover, the application originally submitted by Edwards — and approved by Genwright — did, in fact, note a baseline start date of April 27, 2023 for the capitol project. FITSNews was provided a copy of the original submission, effectively exonerating Edwards and leaving critics asking … where is the issue?

(Click to View)

Edwards’ original DHPG application reflecting a late-April start date. (Via: Connell Law Firm)

“Miraculously,” someone within the city had amended Edwards’ original grant application without his knowledge — striking through “April 27, 2023” with a pen and handwriting the date of “May 9, 2023” beside it. FITSNews was furthermore provided a copy of this document which does, in fact, contain the scribbles in question.

(Click to View)

Amended DHPG application reflecting a handwritten start date. (Via: Connell Law Firm)

At a subsequent council meeting following the complaint, Genwright and another public servant informed the city that Grey’s “work” at North Railroad Avenue was reimbursable. Remember — Grey was Edwards general contractor who had not only accomplished nothing on this project, but had no plan to accomplish anything. 

In simple language, the city awarded Edwards the grant money to finance any and all construction bids procured by Grey — the slothful general contractor introduced to him by Genwright. In turn, he redrafted a $29,500 roofing contract within the month.

As per doing everything himself, Edwards had contacted a local flooring contractor who agreed to perform work upon his commercial property for $8,132.01. Come nightfall of June 11, 2023 — approximately one week before the flooring work was scheduled to begin — Grey alledgly approached Edwards with a piece of paper in hand.

According to the politically connected general contractor, the flooring quote needed to be on his “Monty Grey Jr. Construction” letterhead — likely for DHPG reimbursement — and handed the businessman his estimate. The paper detailed an identical job description, with minor modifications to countertops and cabinetry, for a dramatically inflated price of $46,000

Edwards refused to accept the egregious 565 percent markup and took his concerns to the department of code enforcement the following morning. While inside Genwright’s office, Edwards said he questioned the correlation of cash demands, inflated quotes, disputed start dates and exclusive channeling of reimbursements towards Grey. 

According to Edwards, Genwright was visibly unmoved by his observations and reportedly promised to “fix” the situation. This is when the posse reportedly gathered inside of Edwards’ property — consisting of Genwright, mayor Tally McColl and others. The show of force came after Edwards refused to sign a nondisclosure agreement presented to him by Janet Paschal, the city attorney.

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WRONGDOING UNDER INVESTIGATION …

“Right now, I see a lot of smoke,” said Derek A. Shoemake, a criminal defense lawyer and former federal prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney’s Office (USAO) in the District of South Carolina. In August of this year, he was elected to Kershaw County Council after a special general election.

Shoemake told FITSNews that the Connell Law Firm is actively investigating the veracity of Edwards’ allegations against the city. In this matter, he already believes the “facts” and “information” discovered by investigators are emblematic to public corruption cases he prosecuted as an Assistant U.S. Attorney.

“I can’t say, unequivocally, that the City of Dillon is corrupt. But what I can say is that my client [Edwards] was taken advantage of by untoward business practices which the city was made aware of months ago,” continued Shoemake. “In broad strokes, what appears to be happening is a fairly substantial abuse of the grant program.”

A little more than one month ago — on October 3, 2023 — Shoemake emailed a nine-page letter to the city council, city attorney, city manager and mayor of Dillon. Not a single public servant responded to his request for resolution. Consequently, Shoemake was forced to report his findings to the S.C. Law Enforcement Division (SLED).

Like Shoemake, FITSNews reached out to city manager Glen Wagner to get his take on the allegations against his municipality — as well as provide an open microphone to any of his counterparts mentioned in Shoemake’s letter.

In his only written response to FITSNews — following two of our emails within one week — Wagner wrote: “I believe the city attorney responded to you.” Unfortunately, she didn’t.

At present, Shoemake has already identified a number of potential criminal and civil violations including misconduct in office, fraud, conspiracy, tortious conduct and violation of the Palmetto State’s unfair trade practices act.

Count on this media outlet to monitor Dillon as this case moves forward — and to keep you updated in the event city officials decide to respond.

If you know of cases similar to this one in your community that deserve investigative scrutiny, please reach out to our media outlet. We’re not only committed exposing nefarious activity within our government — but compelled to hold public servants accountable when they alledgly fail us.

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THE DISPATCH …

(Via: Provided)

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

Andrew Fancher (Travis Bell)

Andrew Fancher is a Lone Star Emmy award-winning journalist from Dallas, Texas. Cut from a bloodline of outlaws and lawmen alike, he was the first of his family to graduate college which was accomplished with honors. Got a story idea or news tip for Andy? Email him directly and connect with him socially across Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

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