Richland Solicitor Dan Johnson used money from his office's narcotics fund to pay to travel to South America in April 2017.
At the time, money was running short in an office account that the prosecutor had used to pay various hotel, Uber and other travel bills. So Johnson transferred $10,000 from an office account that contained cash seized in narcotics cases to pay his credit card expenses.
The transfer is included in records of nearly eight years of spending by Johnson's office released by Public Access to Public Records, a Columbia-based nonprofit. After filing Freedom of Information requests, PAPR — as the group is known — received about 40,000 pages of documents detailing spending by the prosecutor for Richland and Kershaw counties. Thus far, PAPR has made public fewer than 20,000 documents.
To transfer the public money from the narcotics account to his office-issued credit card account, Johnson wrote a check on the narcotics account for $10,000.
Money seized or forfeited in narcotics cases is supposed to be used by solicitor's offices on drug enforcement-related matters, according to the S.C. attorney general's office and other solicitors.
"The money is supposed to be used for prosecution and enforcement in drug-related cases," said spokesman Robert Kittle of the attorney general's office, adding that office has no control over how the state's 16 solicitors actually spend the money in their narcotics accounts.
S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson has asked the State Law Enforcement Division to open a preliminary investigation into Johnson's spending. SLED chief Mark Keel has said he has assigned two agents to the case.
Rick Hubbard, the 11th Circuit solicitor whose district includes Lexington County, said Wednesday the money in his office's narcotics account is used only on drug-related matters.
"My understanding is that the spending has to be drug-related — equipment or training," said the Lexington prosecutor. "That is how we've always placed the money."
Johnson did not reply to an inquiry Wednesday afternoon about why he transferred $10,000 from the narcotics account to help pay his credit card bill.
Records viewed by The State do not reflect whether Johnson reimbursed the narcotics fund or the purpose of his travel.
The $10,000 helped pay an $2,136 hotel bill at the Hotel Cabrera Imperial in Bogota, Colombia, and a $657 hotel bill in Quito, Ecuador, according to Johnson's office-issued Bank of America credit card.
That same month, April 2017, Johnson also visited the Galapagos Islands, a premier wildlife site some 300 miles off the coast of Ecuador, his office said a year ago. At that time, a Circuit Court judge ordered Johnson to return to Columbia from the Galapagos to testify in a legal proceeding.
The records offer no details about why Johnson visited Bogota and Quito in April 2017.
But Johnson had been in that part of the world before.
In 2016, Johnson visited the Galapagos Islands to attend a continuing legal education seminar. The seminar was offered by Camden lawyer Thomas Mullikan.
In a publicly available post online, the Mullikan Law Firm posted a photo of Johnson and others at the 2016 Galapagos legal seminar. Topics included "global climate change and concluded with an interesting and timely examination of environmental enforcement and prosecution by Solicitor Dan Johnson," the post says.
Prosecutors in Johnson's office normally handle criminal cases, including murders, armed robberies and sex crimes. Johnson, personally, does not try cases in court. Instead, he lets other lawyers in his office prosecute cases.