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STATE HOUSE: State Rep. Harold Mitchell denies personal gain from questionable campaign expenses

The S.C. House Ethics Committee will issue a finding at a later date on whether State Rep. Harold Mitchell, D-Spartanburg, misused thousands of dollars of campaign money, the committee's chairman said.

The committee, chaired by Rep. Kenny Bingham, R-Lexington, heard testimony on Tuesday from Mitchell, his attorney Bruce Byrholdt and a forensic attorney who testified on Mitchell's behalf.

The questionable transactions, possible violations of state ethics laws according to the committee's findings, included several cash withdrawals, bank counter checks from Mitchell's campaign account written to cash and to Mitchell, checks written to Mitchell and other transactions spent on purposes not clearly related to his campaign, according to an attorney the Ethics panel hired to investigate Mitchell's case who also testified at the hearing. Mitchell also may have violated state ethics laws by not reporting some campaign contributions.

Rep. Kenny Bingham, R-Lexington, said during the hearing that the committee has received no receipts for any of the expenses under question.

The committee members asked several questions about why Mitchell decided to take cash withdrawals to pay for expenses rather than use the same checks to pay the expenses directly, which would have created a record of the transactions.

The accusations of possible ethics law violations came about while Mitchell was under investigation in 2011 for tax evasion. Mitchell pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of not filing his 2007 and 2008 taxes on time, the Associated Press reported. The Ethics Committee decided in February that it needed more time to review the case against Mitchell. In February, Bruce Byrholdt, Mitchell's attorney, said Mitchell was only guilty of poor accounting and helping a family displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

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