The FBI has joined an ongoing investigation into allegations of public corruption at the Richland County Recreation Commission, according to sources familiar with the probe.
The Richland County Sheriff’s Department, the 5th Circuit solicitor’s office and SLED already are looking into the allegations, details of which are not known.
Meanwhile, James Brown III, the commission’s executive director, said Tuesday that he has nothing to fear.
“I welcome the investigation, which I am confident will clear my name personally as the agency’s executive director,” said Brown, 60, who has been the agency’s director since about 2010 and with the agency since 1981.
Brown made his comments in a prepared statement to a State newspaper reporter who dropped by the agency’s headquarters on Parklane Road.
After reading his prepared statement, Brown went on to say that when and if law enforcement agents show up, “I’m here, and whoever comes, I will open the door and let them come in. The door will be wide open.”
Although the Recreation Commission is getting $13.3 million in county taxpayer funds this year from Richland County Council, the commission is not a part of county government and county officials say they know few details of its inner workings.
The Recreation Commission is a state-created agency overseen by the Richland County Legislative Delegation, a group of five state senators and 12 state representatives who represent the county in the General Assembly. The commission is directly overseen by a seven-member board.
In the past several weeks, various members of the legislative delegation alternately have asked Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, 5th Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson and SLED to investigate.
SLED Chief Mark Keel said Tuesday evening that his agents are looking into the Recreation Commission. “We have received a request, and we have initiated an investigation.”
A spokesman for the Richland County sheriff’s department, Maj. Curtis Wilson, said, “The sheriff’s department is working with our partners in the investigation.”
Solicitor Dan Johnson said Tuesday his office is actively involved. “We are working with our law enforcement partners.”
FBI spokesman Don Wood said he could “neither confirm nor deny” the FBI is investigating.
But sources The State spoke with said the FBI is involved. “The FBI has opened up a file and is looking at allegations of public corruption among some public officials at the commission,” said one source who did not want to be named because he is not authorized to speak on the matter.
The involvement of the FBI brings a more muscular dimension to any state or local investigation. Federal grand juries, which like state grand juries have the power to indict, also have considerably more power than a State Grand Jury.
A federal grand jury can issue subpoenas for items such as email messages and can compel witnesses to testify. Moreover, it is a federal crime to lie to an FBI agent, but it’s not a violation of any law to lie to a SLED agent or a sheriff’s detective.
Meanwhile, since March, four current or former employees of the Recreation Commission have filed lawsuits against the agency, alleging various complaints against Brown and others associated with the commission. The complaints include sexual harassment and other inappropriate behaviors on the part of Brown and some staffers and board members.
None of the defendants have filed substantial responses to the lawsuits have been filed at the Richland County courthouse to the lawsuits, said Columbia attorney Lewis Cromer, whose office represents the four plaintiffs. It was apparently those lawsuits that helped spark law enforcement interest into the goings-on at the commission.
Besides getting $13.3 million this year from the county government, the commission also generates revenue streams from its numerous youth programs and 40 public facilities, which include swimming pools, summer camps and an 18-hole golf course.