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Lowcountry South Carolina Ethics Investigations Ramp Up

Beaufort County back under the magnifying glass …

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Investigators with the South Carolina State Ethics Commission (SCSEC) are making progress in their ongoing review of multiple alleged improprieties involving officials in Beaufort County, S.C., multiple sources familiar with the status of their inquiries confirmed this week.

SCSEC investigators were in Beaufort County earlier this month conducting interviews with county staff, our sources confirmed. Among those interviewed? Beaufort County attorney Brittany Ward.

According to our sources, investigators’ questioning of Ward took “almost all day” to complete.

A spokesperson for Beaufort County declined to comment, but according to our sources SCSEC investigators conducted multiple interviews with county employees spanning several days beginning Halloween week.

SCSEC officials confirmed this summer they were investigating former county administrator Eric Greenway, former deputy county administrator Whitney Richland and former parks and recreation director Shannon Loper based on “probable cause” of violations stemming from complaints submitted to the agency in late July.

Greenway was fired by Beaufort County on July 28, 2023 – a decision which was reaffirmed on September 11, 2023. Richland resigned from her post in August 18, 2023 after our media outlet raised questions about the county’s controversial purchase of $36,000 worth of “weighted blankets” from a business with ties to her family. Loper was fired on October 9, 2023 after she allegedly spent $800,000 on a handicapped-accessible playground in Port Royal, S.C. without following proper procurement procedures.

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The allegations against Greenway prompted a wide-ranging criminal investigation by agents of the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) and investigators in the office of S.C. first circuit solicitor David Pascoe.

That investigation – like the pending SCSEC inquiries – is ongoing.

According to our sources, investigators have reportedly heard from multiple witnesses who claim Greenway and Richland “threatened at least one other county employee who questioned their actions in regards to fiscal irregularities and/ or questionable financial transactions.”

We have also heard reports of an alleged coverup – including one county council member who is said to be conspiring with others to “cover tracks on wrongdoings and crimes” including rumored “land purchase deals, kickbacks, ghost purchases, overbids, no-bids and more.”

All of this began unspooling after this outlet obtained and published a Beaufort County sheriff’s office incident report (.pdf) alleging misconduct in office involving Greenway between January 9, 2023 and May 11, 2023.

Council members originally suspended Greenway from office, but they were forced to terminate him two days after a woman he harassed – and targeted for retaliation when his overtures were rebuffed – went public with her story. Former county wellness director Lisa Lynch sat down for an extensive interview with this news outlet back in August, decrying the “pervasive and systemic mistreatment of women” in county government.

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“I’m not going away,” Lynch told me. “I am going to speak for myself and for all women who have not been able to speak out.”

Lynch isn’t the only female public official in Beaufort County to raise these issues.

Current county treasurer Maria Walls and former county chief financial officer Alicia Holland both filed lawsuits against the county in recent years in response to harassment they allegedly endured while discharging their official duties as public servants. The source of that harassment? Former county auditor James “Jim” Beckert.

Walls has since filed a separate lawsuit alleging retaliation against her in her official capacity after mediation with the county failed.

Beaufort County is one of South Carolina’s largest, wealthiest and most influential county governments – with an annual budget of $143.6 million. Unfortunately, it continues to be plagued by “politically and governmentally immature” leaders, as I have previously noted.

Beaufort’s elected leaders are scheduled to receive a briefing this evening (November 13, 2023) from a law firm they previously hired to probe the county’s finances. The “initial information” obtained by this Columbia, S.C.-based firm – Haynesworth Sinkler Boyd – is expected to be provided to county council members during an executive session.

The secrecy surrounding the county’s internal inquiry – as well as its unknown cost and the extended length of time it is taking to yield results – is drawing criticism.

“They already wasted our tax dollars and now they’re using more to investigate the waste with no results or information,” one county watchdog lamented.

As previously noted, our media outlet was the first to expose this scandal. Count on us to keep our audience up to speed on all of its latest developments as the investigatory phase of this story continues to unfold.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

Will Folks (Brett Flashnick)

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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1 comment

thewoodfamily2@mac.com Top fan November 14, 2023 at 12:34 am

Great article! It’s probably happening in surrounding areas also. That will be for another time.

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