SLED investigation of possible extortion in Horry County sent to 15th Circuit Solicitor’s Office

Grand Strand

CONWAY, SC (WBTW)- The SLED investigation of possible extortion in Horry County has been sent to the 15th Circuit Solicitor’s Office.

Solicitor Jimmy Richardson said he received the report on Thursday. 

Richardson said the review has been completed and should be completed next week.

News13 asked Richardson if this means criminal charges are being pursued or if it’s customary that SLED would turn over the report to his office for review.

“It’s customary. We will review and get up with SLED to decide what we have or don’t have,” Richardson said.

In January, a motion was drafted to suspend Horry County Administrator Chris Eldridge amid SLED’s investigation into extortion claims.

According to documents obtained by News13, the motion was drafted on January 4 to suspend Eldridge “until at such time Council receives a completed copy of the current SLED investigation or chooses to address this matter in a timely manner at the Council’s discretion for further consideration.” 

The drafted motion also states that in the interim, Horry County Emergency Management Director Randy Webster would take over as the Interim Administrator, should Eldridge get suspended. 

The draft motion, according to documents, was sent by Councilman Al Allen to Councilmen Johnny Vaught and Danny Hardee, as well as current Horry County Chairman Johnny Gardner on January 4 at 8:23 a.m.

On January 4, a special called Horry Council meeting got tense as SLED investigated an accusation of an extortion attempt involving the new head of the council.

The meeting lasted about 30 minutes and only had one main agenda item: executive session. It would have allowed council to privately talk about an employee matter, but it was shot down. No action was taken in the meeting.

Council voted 10-to-2 against going into executive session after several council members shared their feelings publicly.

​”I don’t see what we’re going to talk about back there that we can’t discuss out here in the open in public,” said Dennis DiSabato, a councilman representing Myrtle Beach.

The employees publicly discussed were county administrator Chris Eldridge and county attorney Arrigo Carotti. Last month, Eldridge asked SLED to investigate a claim of attempted extortion by an associate of new council chair Johnny Gardner.

The claim says a man named Luke Barefoot tried to extort $40,000 from Sandy Davis, the CEO of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation, in exchange for killing a negative blog story about her. Eldridge says he listened to about four minutes of a 90-minute audio recording of a conversation involving Barefoot, Gardner, Davis and another member of MBREDC.

Some council members criticized how Eldridge and Carotti have handled the claim.

“We have a county administrator that has made allegations against the new, incoming chairman and against prominent citizens in this county with no factual evidence whatsoever,” said Al Allen, a councilman representing Aynor.

Eldridge gave a letter to council members after the meeting. 

News 13 obtained a copy of that letter, in which Eldridge requests any conversations about the future of his job to be in public.

“I will not have my integrity attacked without means of defense in public,” Eldridge wrote in the letter.

Count on News13 on-air, online and on social media for updates.

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