Top Ethics Fines of Current Officeholders

August 30, 2016

Investigative Reports

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By DUNCAN TAYLOR

ethics commission

The biggest unpaid ‘tickets’

If you have the misfortune of receiving a traffic ticket, the course of action is straightforward: Pay it or be punished. When it comes to ethics fines on South Carolina elected officials, the rules aren’t so simple.

The State Ethics Commission is tasked with enforcing the ethics laws, and to that end the commission is empowered to conduct investigations into ethics violations, both potential and actual, as well as to pronounce judgements and levy penalties. Some of the commission’s findings can be found on the agency’s website, as well as information on the various debtors who have not paid their ethics fines.

The Nerve found that there are a number of elected officials who owe significant ethics fines to the state. According to the Ethics Commission website to collect these debts the commission has “sent letters, telephoned, and/or made personal contact with the debtors. In addition, those debtors who have reached bad debt status have been referred to the S.C. Department of Revenue for collection.”

The three currently serving elected officials with the highest outstanding ethics fines are Trustee Tony Lewis, Trustee Anthony Brown and Mayor Jerry Cook. All have had fines in excess of $25,000.

This month Lewis, who owes the most of any current elected official at $61,000, stepped down from his position as Chairman of Charleston Constituent District 20, because of alleged blackmail against the school district, but still remains on the board. His outstanding fine was not among the reasons he gave for stepping down.

Brown is a Trustee on the Constituent District 2 Board of Trustees for Charleston County School district. His fine is over $52,000.

Cook is the mayor of the town of Yemassee; his fine is $25,100. In 2014 he was asked about his fine – at that point he owed a mere $500 – and responded, “I ain’t paying a dime because I ain’t done nothing wrong,”

The abovementioned sheriff is Thomas Smalls. This chief law enforcement officer of Hampton County owes the commission $15,600.

Unfortunately, the charges that resulted in these ethics fines against these officials were not available by the time this story was posted, though a request to the State Ethics Commission for more information has been sent.

The ability for officials with many thousands of dollars in fines against them to continue serving illustrates the accountability gap that exists in South Carolina. There would appear to be one set of rules for elected officials, and another for those who pay their salaries.

Meanwhile, if you get a speeding ticket in Hampton County – or anywhere else in South Carolina – don’t make the mistake of assuming you can ignore it.

Duncan Taylor is a policy analyst at the South Carolina Policy Council

  • Sharon

    I made the same mistake on my tax return 3 years in a row. Was not aware that my health insurance premiums were not tax deductable. Four years after the first return was submitted, I was sent a letter from the Department of Revenue stating I owed over $1,500 in taxed, interest and penalties. Having lost my job of almost 6 years after being terminated for having an anxiety attack while at work, I was unable to pay it right away. It only took a few months before they froze my checking accout with the only notice coming from my bank. If one state agency can do this to a citizen over an honest mistake, why can”t they do it to public figures who violate ethics and the trust of the very people the serve? What is the meaning of justice for all?

  • William Morgan

    Ethics in The State of SC (Southern Corruption)? How dare you question this states’ ethical foundation! After all, FREEMASONRY, the secular and immoral religion of this nations’ founding fathers prospers here, as well as this cults privileged and irreproachable beneficiaries! Haven’t you seen the Dominoe Pizza commercial touting our lawful perspective?! 3 feet of bacon wrapped crust is delightfully legal in our pathetically corrupt state! Our states law / fraud enforcement agencies, our beholden magic-strates, masters of inequity, you newcomers and job creators are our prey, we public dis-servants / our peers / and racketeering progeny pride ourselves on our arrogance and blatant disregard for you pee on taxpayer slaves. Just ask Yankee William Morgan, whose retirement savings we converted to support one of our shrine club cleaning ladies, and then falsely arrested him for defending himself from us and for daring to seek civil remedy for our fraud. Stubborn yank he is…we had to have our sheriff office escort Deputy SLEAZEY VZ to trash his homes, then booby trap one home to burn down when he restored Berkeley Electric Coop power service, cuz he wouldn’t pay our 50K extortion demands.

    Ethics? Lol… Try path- etics…

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