CONWAY, SC (WBTW) – An accusation of an extortion attempt and a South Carolina Law Enforcement Division investigation clouded Thursday’s swearing-in ceremony of Horry County Council chair-elect Johnny Gardner.
A SLED spokesperson says the agency received a verbal request Thursday morning from Horry County Administrator Chris Eldridge to investigate claims of a possible extortion attempt.
“It would be inappropriate for us to comment on the matter at this time,” said Horry County spokesperson Kelly Moore.
Johnny Gardner says his first goal is to get ready for next year’s budget when he takes over as Horry County Council chair on January 1.
“I have met with every council member since the election and, to a man, they all stand ready to do whatever it takes,” Gardner said. “They recognize this is a tough budget. They recognize that there are some issues that the voters have brought to our attention.”
Less than two weeks before officially taking office, Gardner is at the center of an accusation of attempted extortion.
A South Carolina-based news website says Gardner and an associate named Luke Barefoot met with Sandy Davis, CEO of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation. Sherri Steele of the MBREDC was also at the meeting. Davis says Steele recorded the conversation for the MBREDC’s executive committee.
The article claims in the audio recording, Barefoot told Davis a blog was going to post a negative story about her. It also claims Barefoot told Davis to hire a consultant from the Gardner campaign for public relations work for $40,000. That money would be hidden through the Beach Ball Classic high school basketball tournament.
Davis, however, says she didn’t feel extorted. She told News13, “I wasn’t asked to pay anybody anything.”
Gardner didn’t get into specifics when we asked about the claim after the county council’s swearing-in ceremony Thursday.
“I’ve heard rumors about that,” he said. “I’ve also heard that there’s a SLED investigation. If that’s the case, then everybody knows that we’ll cooperate freely, look forward to it, get it behind us, but that’s all I have to say about that.”
Davis also says SLED has a copy of the audio recording.
Count on News13 for updates.