Crime & Courts

Attorney general asks for probe into Richland prosecutor’s spending

Dan Johnson
Dan Johnson

Fifth Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson used an office credit card to pay for a hotel in the Galapagos Islands and high-priced Uber rides, among other spending, according to records.

S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson has asked the State Law Enforcement Division to investigate the spending.

More than 1,000 pages of records from Johnson’s office show he used his office credit card to charge $912 at a deluxe hotel on the Galapagos Islands and $1,200 on Uber rides over 13 months, mostly choosing the ride-sharing service’s more expensive Uber Black and Uber Select options, which provide luxury sedans and SUVs.

Johnson is solicitor, or state prosecutor, of the 5th Judicial Circuit, which includes Richland and Kershaw counties. South Carolina has 16 circuit solicitors.

The records were obtained by Freedom of Information requests from the newly formed watchdog group Public Access to Public Records. The web site FitsNews said the group had obtained the records last month. The Post and Courier of Charleston reported on the records Thursday.

The watchdog group is being helped by a law firm run by Dick Harpootlian, a former Fifth Circuit solicitor and state Democratic Party chairman.

In an email to The State, Johnson said Thursday that “to my knowledge, no federal, state, Richland or Kershaw County appropriated tax dollars have been used inappropriately.” Johnson added he would review any expenditures involving “potential misuse of taxpayer funds” and “if a mistake was made, then I will certainly remedy it.”

Johnson said his office released some 30,000 pages of information to the watchdog group. “I released the documents because I have nothing to hide.”

Johnson, a Democrat, first was elected in 2010.

The spending records led S.C. Attorney General Wilson, who as the state’s chief prosecutor has supervisory responsibility over all state prosecutors, to request a SLED investigation.

“We received this information this morning and have asked the State Law Enforcement Division to begin a preliminary inquiry. Since this is now a pending matter, we will not comment beyond that,” a spokesman for Wilson’s office said.

Expensive Uber rides

The spending records do not indicate what account the spending came from, what reasons Johnson gave for the trips or whether he reimbursed the spending.

Johnson’s spending records also show he spent $118 for tickets to a Minnesota Twins baseball game after asking an assistant to find him the best seats. Johnson was attending the 2012 National Community Prosecution Conference in Minneapolis.

On a different trip to Minnesota in August 2016, Johnson spent $179 on an Uber ride that started in downtown Minneapolis and went to the Paisley Park area, where singer Prince’s studio was located. The musician had died four months earlier.

Johnson’s office paid for a $623.53 meal at Hanks Oyster Bar in Alexandria, Va.; $276 meal at Thoroughbreds, a steakhouse in Myrtle Beach; $363 at Pearlz in Columbia; and a $197.93 bill at Ruth’s Chris in Columbia, according to the records.

Other travel bills for Johnson in 2017 included trips to New Orleans, Nashville, Hartford, Minneapolis and Bogota, Colombia.

All told, the records show Johnson charged more than $11,700 at restaurants and private clubs and $8,800 for special events. The special event spending included $1,900 in 2014 to buy 15 tickets to the Carolina Cup horse race in Camden, along with food, embroidered polo shirts and complimentary leather portfolios for guests.

The horse race is in Kershaw County, which is in Johnson’s circuit along with Richland County.

In his email to The State, Johnson listed numerous programs his office is involved in to reduce crime and rehabilitate offenders. “I stand by the work I do in my office and in our communities.”

Associated Press and State staff reporter John Monk contributed