Earlier this week, we reported on the escalation of two ethics investigations into embattled Colleton County, South Carolina clerk of court Becky Hill. That news broke less than a week after we reported that Hill’s son, Colleton County information technology director Jeffrey “Colt” Hill, had been arrested on one count of wiretapping for having “willfully and feloniously intercept(ed) electronic phone communication.”
That arrest appears to have been tied to an effort to keep Becky Hill abreast of the investigations into her conduct, sources close to the probe have told us.
We previously reported that Becky Hill’s cell phone was seized by agents of the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) in connection with the inquiry into her son, but the ethics cases against her are the ones drawing the most attention – especially given their potential to impact convicted killer Alex Murdaugh‘s bid for a new trial.
And there are significant developments to report this week on both of those complaints …
To recap: Hill’s office oversaw Murdaugh’s six-week double murder trial earlier this year – an international spectacle which has been referred to as the ‘Trial of the Century’ in the Palmetto State. Murdaugh, 55, a disbarred attorney and confessed fraudster from Hampton, S.C., was found guilty by a Colleton County jury of the graphic 2021 murders of his wife – 52-year-old Maggie Murdaugh – and younger son, 22-year-old Paul Murdaugh. S.C. circuit court judge Clifton Newman handed down a pair of life sentences in the case.
Jurors deliberated for less than three hours before returning their verdicts.
Hill was the one who announced Murdaugh’s guilty verdicts to a waiting world on the evening of March 2, 2023. The following day, S.C. circuit court judge Clifton Newman handed down a pair of life sentences in the case. In early September, though, the script flipped. Murdaugh’s attorneys – led by Dick Harpootlian and Jim Griffin – dropped a bombshell motion accusing Hill of tampering with jurors who decided Murdaugh’s fate.
“Hill betrayed her oath of office for money and fame,” Harpootlian and Griffin alleged, accusing Hill of improperly influencing jurors against Murdaugh in an effort to sell copies of her book, Behind the Doors of Justice.
Hill has denied any wrongdoing – and initial reports have pointed to there being some substance to her denials. An evidentiary hearing into the tampering allegations is likely to take place sometime in February or March of 2024. Newman has rightfully recused himself from presiding over retrial motions – meaning another judge must be tapped to handle that hearing (and potentially a second trial).
According to our sources, S.C. chief justice Donald Beatty has drawn up a list of judges and will soon choose one to inherit the Murdaugh mess. Be on the lookout for more on those moving pieces in a follow-up article …
RELATED | INSIDE THE POST-TRIAL CHESS MOVES
Meanwhile, back to the Becky Hill investigation(s): As we reported earlier this week, the two investigations into Hill – currently pending before the S.C. State Ethics Commission (SCSEC) – could soon be referred to SLED for criminal prosecution. In fact, as I noted, sources familiar with the inquiries made it clear they believe both of Hill’s pending ethics cases “will wind up at SLED … sooner rather than later.”
This week, our media outlet received a copy of the first ethics complaint filed against Hill. We also received a detailed report on the contents of the second report – a copy of which we are working to obtain.
In the first complaint (.pdf), it was alleged that Hill engaged in “unethical behavior” and “utilized her authority, the Colleton County courthouse and taxpayer’s money outside the scope of routine court business” to promote her book as well as a book by local reporter Michael DeWitt.
“During the Murdaugh trial, clerk of court Becky Hill has unethically and potentially unlawfully used her political office to obtain and release confidential information,” the complaint noted. “She has used her office and misallocated funds to promote her book and the book written by Michael DeWitt. Hill has neglected the office of clerk of court to take several trips to promote her book and to meet with Netflix to secure her position (in its documentary). Hill’s actions have displayed she is unfit to hold the office of clerk of court.”
Specifically, Hill is alleged to have “used her political position and authority to obtain confidential information and digital images of the defendant and others during the trial.”
(Click to view)
Those images were allegedly taken by Melissa Gordon – whom she hired during the trial as the photographer for her book. Gordon’s husband, Neil Gordon – the publisher of Augusta Business Daily – is also the co-author of Hill’s book.
Hill “permitted Gordon unimpeded access to the (courthouse) and facilitated her in taking digital images that no other citizen was permitted to have.” Gordon was “allowed into the courthouse every day of the trial, even though it was admitted there was (a) limited amount of seating for spectators.”
Several of these photos were released in Hill’s book, along with other details which – according to the complaint – “could have an adverse effect in upholding the conviction of Murdaugh in the event of an appeal.”
The complaint further alleged that Hill oversaw “guided tours of the Colleton County Courthouse during normal business hours” in exchange for “donations.” She allegedly told participants in these guided tours that their donations would be used to “replace the front windows of the courthouse.” These funds are reportedly “unaccounted for as there are no receipts being issued and it is unknown what financial institution and account the donations are being held in.”
Not only that, in one instance Hill is accused of having “ordered a staff member” to strike out the name of Colleton County on at least one $100 check and “add (Hill’s) name” as the recipient of the donation. News of this allegedly doctored check was first referenced by Lori Murray on her popular TikTok page earlier this week.
While the first complaint against Hill raises some interesting issues – and plays directly into the allegations leveled by Murdaugh’s attorneys regarding jury tampering – sources familiar with the situation say the second report is the one that could really land her in hot water.
Well, along with the ongoing eavesdropping investigation that has ensnared her son … and could soon ensnare her, too.
(Click to view)
As mentioned, this media outlet does not have a copy of that second complaint, but multiple sources familiar with its contents have confirmed it accused Hill of misappropriating public funds from multiple accounts – and then allegedly misrepresenting those misappropriations to county officials.
The second complaint was filed by a former Colleton County employee, we are told.
While I am not going to speculate on specific misappropriation allegations in the absence of a hard copy of the document, the direction of the investigation seems clear based on subpoenas reportedly issued by SCSEC investigators following their receipt of this second complaint.
According to our sources, investigators have demanded the production of records related to no fewer than seven different Colleton County accounts which flow through Hill’s office – including two accounts which contain federal funding. Those two accounts are tied to a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) child support enforcement incentive program which provides bonuses for employees who work on these cases. A separate court-administered fines and fees account is also being pored through, along with an office Xerox account, a passport fee account, a bond account and a bond licensure account.
What are investigators looking for? Again, at this point we have no information on specific misappropriation allegations related to any of those accounts – only that investigators are digging into them.
More ominously for Hill, her personal financial records have reportedly been sought by ethics investigators under a separate subpoena.
To be clear: Hill has not been criminally charged – or found to have violated ethics law – in connection with any of the investigations referenced in this report. That includes the ongoing jury tampering investigation, the criminal probe of her son or the ethics investigations into her official conduct. Obviously in the event she were to be charged, the presumption of innocence would extend to her just as it extends to anyone accused of any criminal activity.
Sources close to Hill have zealously defended her integrity, and termed the ongoing investigations as being akin to routine audits of the funds she controls. One Hill backer told us those questioning her integrity would wind up with “more egg on their faces than Dick Harpootlian after his egg juror video,” a reference to this ongoing saga related to the jury tampering probe.
Once again, count on our media outlet to keep our audience up to speed on the very latest developments related to this ongoing spinoff of the ‘Murdaugh Murders‘ crime and corruption saga. Also, be on the lookout for a follow-up report in the coming days on the latest developments in Murdaugh’s bid for a new trial.
There are some significant new developments to report on that front, as well.
In the meantime, to view the first complaint against Hill for yourself, click on the document below …
THE COMPLAINT …
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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