Election Law Violations Alleged Against Former Longtime House Member

December 15, 2014

Investigative Reports

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Vote HereFor 28 years, Denny Neilson served in the S.C. House, losing her seat in 2012 after her old legislative district was redrawn following the 2010 U.S. Census.

The 76-year-old Darlington Democrat didn’t sit on the political sidelines for very long, however, deciding to seek another House seat this year that had been held by Ted Vick, a Chesterfield Democrat who announced in February, while awaiting trial in two DUI cases, that he wouldn’t seek re-election.

Neilson on March 30 filed for Vick’s seat, but in a surprise move, applied to run in the June 10 Republican Party primary election, pitting her against Richie Yow, who lost to Vick in the 2012 general election.

On her Statement of Intention of Candidacy and Party Pledge (SICPP) in seeking Vick’s seat, Neilson, whose primary home has been in Darlington, listed a Chesterfield address, records show, though she admitted in an interview Friday night with The Nerve that she never lived there but was planning to do so.

“It was vacant; that’s why I was going to move into it,” Neilson said.

Neilson said she had a contract to purchase the property but walked away from the deal after Chesterfield County Republican officials refused to certify her candidacy, keeping her off the ballot. She said she couldn’t immediately locate the contract when contacted again Saturday night.

“I know for a fact we have it,” she said. “You just have to take my word for it.”

Contacted Saturday by The Nerve, Lynn McDonald, who identified herself as the executor of the estate of her late grandmother, Daisy Lewis, who died last December and had lived at the address that Neilson listed on her SICPP, said she wasn’t aware of any contract involving Neilson, adding that Vick’s father, Ted Vick Sr., plans to buy the property.

“I don’t even know her (Neilson),” McDonald said when initially contacted Friday night. “I don’t even know her name.”

McDonald said her late grandmother’s home at 202 Daisy Lewis Lane has been vacant since her grandmother’s death.

‘Clearly Broke Laws’

In recent interviews with The Nerve, Jack Parker, the Chesterfield County Republican Party chairman; and Glenn Gulledge, a Chesterfield County representative on the S.C. Republican Party’s State Executive Committee, contend that Neilson broke state election laws by falsely claiming she lived in Chesterfield County when she filed for Vick’s seat and when she transferred her voter registration from Darlington County to Chesterfield County.

Parker and Gulledge said they have twice filed a complaint with the S.C. Attorney General’s Office and State Law Enforcement Division – initially in July and most recently last month.

“We were successful in preventing Neilson from being placed on the ballot but only because we proved that she was not a resident of District 53 and therefore, not certifiable,” Parker and Gulledge wrote to John McIntosh, chief deputy attorney general, and SLED Chief Mark Keel in a Nov. 25 letter, a copy of which they provided to The Nerve. “This does not negate her fraudulent filing. She clearly broke laws that carry penalties and she needs to be held accountable as well as anyone who conspired with her in this illegal process.”

Neilson said she was unaware of the complaint against her until contacted by The Nerve, noting, “I’m totally shocked.”

“I absolutely broke no law,” she said. “I am innocent.”

Neilson said she can’t understand why Parker and Gulledge are pursuing a criminal investigation of her, given they were able to keep her off the ballot by not certifying her candidacy. Asked about that point, Parker replied, “If I go into a bank to rob it, but I don’t get any money, I don’t get to go home.”

Parker and Gulledge said they have been frustrated by the apparent lack of interest by SLED and the Attorney General’s Office in the case. Said Gulledge, “They just want us to go away and get tired, but we’re not going away.”

In a Dec 3 letter, a copy of which Parker and Gulledge provided to The Nerve, McIntosh told Parker he was referring the complaint to SLED for “the appropriate investigation.”

“Our Office does not investigate, and we will await the investigative results from SLED,” McIntosh said.

Contacted Friday by The Nerve, SLED spokesman Thom Berry declined to discuss specifics of the case, saying only, “We do have one investigation underway. There is a second investigation that is near completion – an earlier investigation that is in the process of being closed.”

Neilson said no one from SLED has contacted her.

Vick Connection

Former House member Vick, who, according to media reports, recently moved to Pawleys Island, did not return a phone message from The Nerve seeking comment about the Neilson case. The Nerve in September reported about his two DUI cases, as well as other pending and past criminal cases involving current and former House members.

One of Vick’s DUI charges – which his attorney, Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, said shouldn’t have been issued because his client wasn’t drunk when his vehicle was stopped by a police officer last year in the State House parking garage, but rather moments earlier had been walking and stopped to remove a pebble from his shoe – was dismissed recently on a technicality.

Asked if she had any conversations this year with Vick about running for his House seat, Neilson, whose old legislative district included part of Chesterfield County, told The Nerve, “No – are you kidding me?”

Neilson gave a less-direct answer when asked the same question about Vick’s father, saying, “I really don’t know anything about the business part of it. I felt I just had to concentrate on the political side of it.”

“I was asked by several people in the community to run because they knew Ted Vick was retiring (from the House),” she said.

Efforts by The Nerve to reach Vick Sr. were unsuccessful.

McDonald told The Nerve that the senior Vick put a down payment on her late grandmother’s house, and that a real estate closing was scheduled for this week. She also said she works at a Cheraw restaurant owned by Vick Sr.

In a notebook of information provided to SLED and the Attorney General’s Office – and The Nerve – Parker and Gulledge wrote, “It is alleged from reliable sources that Ted Vick, Jr. has stated that he will do whatever it takes to prevent the Republican candidate, Richie Yow, from winning this election.”

Yow, who won Vick’s former seat in the November election, declined comment when contacted Friday by The Nerve.

Asked by The Nerve why she decided to run as a Republican after serving nearly three decades as a Democrat, Neilson replied, “My entire family is Republican, and they kinda gave me a hard time,” adding, “I may run as a Republican again.”

No Proof of Residency

Under Article 3, Section 7 of the S.C. Constitution, a candidate for the state House or Senate “must be a legal resident of the district in which he is a candidate at the time he files for the office.”

State law (Section 7-11-15 of the S.C. Code of Laws) requires that candidates seeking nomination through a political party primary election or party convention must file a SICPP and pay any filing fees between noon March 16 and noon March 30 of the election year.

“False swearing” in applying for registration under state election law (Section 7-25-10) is a misdemeanor punishable by up to three years in prison and a fine at the discretion of the sentencing judge. Under another section (Section 7-25-20), false registration or voting, or aiding someone to fraudulently register or fraudulently vote, is a misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of one year in prison and a $500 fine.

In their written complaint to SLED and the Attorney General’s Office, Parker and Gulledge said they were present at the Chesterfield County Voter Registration and Elections Office on March 30 when Neilson came to apply for Vick’s seat. When Neilson, who was accompanied by her husband, was asked by office staff to present two forms of identification showing her residency in Chesterfield County, Neilson showed her driver’s license and a checkbook, though both listed her Darlington home address, according to the complaint.

Lois Burr, the office director, allowed Neilson to submit the application anyway, Parker and Gulledge said. A copy of the application, signed by Neilson and provided to The Nerve, shows that the word “Darlington” was crossed out on the address line and replaced with the 202 Daisy Lewis Lane address in Chesterfield.

Neilson acknowledged to The Nerve that her driver’s license shows her Darlington address; state motor vehicle records included with the complaint show only the Darlington address.

Neilson told The Nerve she had a contract to purchase the Daisy Lewis Lane home before March 30, though she apparently didn’t have it with her when she applied that day for Vick’s seat.

Contacted last week by The Nerve, Burr confirmed that Neilson couldn’t produce any documentation showing a Chesterfield address, but told her she was renting the Daisy Lewis Lane home, and that she was “going to change her driver’s license the next day.” Based on those statements, Burr said she accepted her application.

Asked if she had a legal responsibility to verify Neilson’s Chesterfield address, Burr replied: “It’s up to the party to certify them. It’s not up to us.”

Parker said because Neilson on March 30 couldn’t produce any proof of her Chesterfield address, he refused, as allowed under state law, to certify her as a candidate, keeping her off the ballot. Gulledge said Neilson could have appealed to the GOP State Executive Committee or filed a lawsuit, but did neither.

Other Questions

Parker and Gulledge contend in their complaint that they witnessed Neilson turning in her application about 12:20 p.m. that day, in violation of the state law setting the noon deadline. They included a handwritten receipt signed by Burr indicating the application was turned in at 11:51 a.m. – in contrast to computer-generated receipts for other candidates showing their times of application.

They also allege that Burr allowed Neilson to change her voter registration from Darlington County to Chesterfield County after March 30 and without verification of her new address as required by state law. Gulledge provided The Nerve with a computer screen shot of the State Election Commission website showing that as of 11:14 p.m. on March 30, Neilson was not registered to vote in Chesterfield County.

Burr and Hoyt Campbell – Burr’s counterpart in Darlington County – told The Nerve that Neilson transferred her voter registration on March 30. Campbell said Neilson transferred it back to Darlington County on June 10 – the day of the primary election, adding she was allowed to vote in that election.

Parker and Gulledge said they made their initial complaint to SLED and the Attorney General’s Office in July but were informed in late October by David Fernandez, an assistant attorney general, that he should have instructed them to submit their information to McIntosh, the chief deputy attorney general, and SLED Chief Keel. They also cited in their Nov. 25 letter to McIntosh and Keel other “documented illegal activities” in the 2012 elections in Chesterfield County.

“The citizens of Chesterfield County deserve to have honest, fair, legal and well run elections and presently we do not,” they wrote.

Neilson, who was awarded the Order of the Palmetto in 2002 – the state’s highest civilian honor – said she doesn’t understand all the fuss.

“I put it aside,” she said. “I closed that chapter of my life and moved on to other things.”

Reach Brundrett at (803) 254-4411 or rick@thenerve.org. Follow him on Twitter @thenerve_rick. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and Twitter @thenervesc.