Crime & Courts

Richland prosecutor fond of casinos, luxury Uber rentals

From luxury Ubers to Galapagos trips, here are some of the things Dan Johnson bought with public money

Records show that Fifth Circuit Solicitor, Dan Johnson spent public money on luxury Uber rides and exotic international trips, sparking a FBI investigation into his office's questionable spending.
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Records show that Fifth Circuit Solicitor, Dan Johnson spent public money on luxury Uber rides and exotic international trips, sparking a FBI investigation into his office's questionable spending.

Fifth Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson enjoys the high life — casinos, nightclubs and World of Beer taverns — and his tastes are at least partially financed by public money, according to public records of his expenses reviewed by The State.

Taxi receipts show Johnson visited various casino complexes in Las Vegas and Oxon Hill, Md., according to a review of some of the 12,000 records of spending by Johnson's office recently made public.

“Anybody who knows me knows I don’t gamble,” Johnson chuckled when asked Wednesday about his out-of-town trips to casinos and nightclubs.

It’s not clear what Johnson did at the casinos. The spending records — including receipts for charges on Johnson's office-issued credit card — don’t say and neither will Johnson. However, besides gambling, casinos have restaurants, shows and shopping.

Johnson, who is chief prosecutor for Richland and Kershaw counties, said he would not be making any comment about his office's spending records. SLED is investigating that spending. Also, Johnson said his office is doing its own internal investigation, adding he will discuss its findings when that investigation is finished.

“I’ll be happy to answer all the questions when I have all the facts,” said Johnson. “We are doing our own internal investigation, trying to run all this stuff down.

“I got nothing to hide,” Johnson said. “To the extent that anybody made any mistakes, we’re going to make them right.”

Johnson was interviewed Wednesday afternoon at the beginning of a campaign fundraiser that he held at the Tin Roof in Columbia’s Vista.

That fundraiser was attended by local lawyers and various public officials, including state Rep. Beth Bernstein, D-Richland, former 5th Circuit Solicitor Barney Giese, lawyer Punky Holler, and state Sens. Gerald Malloy, D-Darlington, and Kent Washington, D-Marion.

It could be some time before Johnson speaks about the spending records.

Several thousand records reviewed by The State are only part of some 12,000 records recently made public by a Columbia nonprofit, Public Access to Public Records.

PAPR has received roughly 40,000 spending records from Johnson’s office covering the period from 2010 through November 2017. However, PAPR staffers still are going through those records to delete personal information, including Social Security numbers, before they release the next 28,000 pages.

The material, as released by Johnson’s office to PAPR, is in no particular order. Due to that jumble and the 28,000 records yet to be released, it may be weeks before a complete picture emerges of Johnson’s spending since taking office in January 2010.

But those records show Johnson's fondness for casino complexes and upscale car rentals.

For instance:

On Jan. 27, 2016, Johnson was at the Caesar’s Palace casino complex in Las Vegas

Jan. 29, 2016, he was at the Cosmopolitan Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas

Feb. 1, 2016, he was at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas

Feb. 6, 2016, he was at the New York New York Casino in Las Vegas

Feb 8, 2016, he again was at the New York New York Casino

When traveling, Johnson frequently used the Uber Black car service. That is a premium, more expensive Uber taxi service, offering luxury sedans and SUVs and professionally dressed drivers.

According to his office's records:

On Sept. 7, 2016, Johnson rented an Uber Black car to go to a World of Beer tavern in Evanston, Ill., at a cost of $76.06

At 1:11 a.m. on Sept. 9, 2016, Johnson rented an Uber Black car to go to La Pachanga Night Club and return to his Chicago hotel at a cost of $28.25

At 5:07 p.m. on Sept. 9, 2016, Johnson rented an Uber Black car to take him from the same Chicago hotel to a World of Beer tavern in Naperville, Ill., at a cost of $131.59

At 10:43 p.m. on Jan. 28, 2017, Johnson paid $61.05 for an Uber Black car to take him from a Washington, D.C., hotel to the MGM National Harbor Resort & Casino in Oxon Hill, Md., at a cost of $61. At 3:13 a..m. the next morning, Johnson paid $58.78 for an Uber Black car to take him from the casino back to his hotel.

Johnson said the release of the records, just as he preparing to file for re-election to a third term, is an attempt to drive him from office.

“They’re coming at me. I get that.”

But Johnson said he will run for re-election. “Hell, yeah, I’m running. Why wouldn’t I be?”

Filing for the solicitor’s post opens Friday at noon.

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