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Ethics panel refuses to dismiss complaint against SC treasurer

State ethics watchdogs will move forward with a complaint against S.C. Treasurer Curtis Loftis alleging he violated ethics laws by helping a long-time friend and business associate get a job representing the state in a lawsuit.

Gregory Harris, an attorney for Loftis, asked the S.C. State Ethics Commission Tuesday to dismiss the case against the treasurer.

Harris said the Republican did not violate the law when he asked S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson to approve the hiring of Michael Montgomery, Loftis’ long-time friend, fraternity brother, personal attorney and business associate.

But the Ethics Commission refused to dismiss the case. Director Herb Hayden said the panel will schedule a hearing on the allegations at a later date.

Loftis erred when he did not disclose his ties with Montgomery to Wilson, according to the Ethics Commission. Subsequently, Montgomery was hired to represent the treasurer’s office in a lawsuit and was paid $2 million when the lawsuit was settled.

Attorney Christian Stegmaier, hired by the Ethics Commission to prosecute the case, argued the case should go forward because Loftis should have disclosed his relationship with Montgomery, a former Richland County Council member and Richland 2 school board member.

State law prohibits public officials from knowingly using their office “to obtain an economic interest for himself, a family member, an individual with whom he is associated, or a business with which he is associated.”

The two lawyers disagreed over their interpretation of state ethics laws. They also disagreed on whether Loftis’ and Montgomery’s work on a nonprofit created an association that required Loftis to tell Wilson about their relationship. Montgomery was hired to help with a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the Bank of New York Mellon.

Montgomery was a board member and did legal work for Saluda Charitable Foundation, a nonprofit that Loftis founded. According to the foundation’s website, Loftis is the sole benefactor of the nonprofit, which does charitable work in the Ukraine, Bolivia and Haiti.

Harris told the Ethics Commission that Loftis did not need to tell Wilson about Montgomery’s work for the board of his charity because Montgomery never received any money for that work.

Stegmaier disagreed, saying payment was not necessary in establishing an association that should have been disclosed.

The charity, Stegmaier noted, dedicated a building in Montgomery’s honor. According to the charity’s website, the building is a dining hall in the New Hope Village in a Ukrainian village.

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