September 1, 2015

Former charter school official sentenced to 42 months for embezzling

A former charter school director was sentenced to three and a half years in prison Tuesday, five months after a jury found her guilty of embezzling more than $1.5 million in government funds.

Prosecutors accused Benita Dinkins-Robinson of diverting federal funds that should have gone towards the Mary Dinkins Academy of Higher Learning she operated from 2007 until 2013. The FBI said Dinkins-Robinson had instead redirected $1.56 million in Department of Agriculture student lunch funds and Department of Education monies to a network of shell corporations she controlled.

She must also repay $1.5 million in restitution. She had been facing a maximum sentence of 10 years.

The State newspaper reports deputy marshals were called into the sentencing hearing at one point Tuesday, after Dinkins-Robinson’s brother made angry statements about a testifying FBI case agent that court officials viewed as threatening. The FBI said it had been blocked by Dinkins-Robinson refusing to show them the school’s financial records.

Tuesday’s hearing also marked the first time investigators listed a total amount they accuse the former principal of laundering. Prevous court documents had only listed the number as greater than $1 million.

An attorney representing Dinkins-Robinson argued his client was trying to run the school, but did not understand the state’s financial laws. However, U.S. District Judge Terry Wooten said the school official could not show a legitimate use of the $1.56 million, particularly $760,000 in annuities that she purchased.

The Bishopville school’s charter was revoked by the South Carolina Public Charter School District in 2012 and the district asled the State Law Enforcement Division to investigate reports of fraud. The FBI later took over the investigation. But the school reopened without the state’s blessing in a Sumter church as a countersuit made its way through the court system. A judge ordered it closed for good in March 2013.

Haley, Kansas governor vow to fight possible transfer of Guantanamo detainees

Image: US Navy

Image: US Navy

The governors of South Carolina and Kansas are threatening to sue the Obama administration if War on Terror detainees from Guantanamo Bay are brought to military prisons in either state.

Earlier this month, the Defense Department revealed it was sending evaluation teams to the Naval Consolidated Brig Charleston in Hanahan and a military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. The evaluations will determine if the sites are capable of holding terror suspects and enemy combatants should Guantanamo close.

But Gov. Nikki Haley and her Sunflower State counterpart Sam Brownback have pledged to fight any such transfers. The pair of GOP governors sent a letter to Defense Secretary Ash Carter Tuesday stating that they are prepared to take “any action within our power” to prevent the relocation.

“We will not be part of any illegal and ill-advised action by this Administration, especially when that action relates to importing terrorists into our states,” the letter says.

[Read more…]

#PalmettoPrimary: New poll shows Trump far ahead in SC, but Carson gains

Ben Carson became the fourth candidate to officially file for the SCGOP primary next year

Ben Carson became the fourth candidate to officially file for the SCGOP primary next year

A daily look at how the presidential candidates of both parties are trying to win the “First in the South” primary.

A new poll of South Carolina voters shows presidential candidate Donald Trump leading his fellow Republicans substantially.

A Monmouth Univeristy Polling Institute survey released Monday shows Trump is supported by 30% of voters who are likely to participate in South Carolina’s Republican primary. That percentage was double that of his closest challenger Ben Carson at 15%.

“We’ve become accustomed to Donald Trump leading in every poll, as the candidate himself likes to remind us,” Monmouth University Polling Institute director Patrick Murray said in a news release.

According to the poll, 61% of South Carolina GOP primary voters say the country needs a new approach in Washington politics that can be accomplished through someone who comes from outside of government.

“People in their own party are sick and tired of their own politicians and don’t think their serving them well,” Murray told South Carolina Radio Network.

South Carolina voters said they are likely to base their final decision about who to support in the Republican primary on the candidate’s personal character and involvement or their stances on the issues. Murray projects that Trump will continue to lead but says it all depends on what’s most important to voters.

“Right now their telling us the issues don’t matter as much as his personality, their also overlooking some of his other issue positions and his attacks on fellow Republicans, now the question is will that remain?” says Murray.

Voters hold the economy as their top concern, with national security, taxes and government spending, social issues, immigration, and education following behind.

Trump would win the vote of those who identify as “very conservative” and “somewhat conservative” with over 30%. Evangelicals, who make up almost two-thirds of the Republican GOP voters, back Trump with 33% support over Carson’s 18%. Trump also holds a lead from Tea Party supporters.
South Carolina GOP primary voters also give Trump a 58% favorable to just 28% unfavorable rating — which is a huge contrast to South Carolina native U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham’s 35% favorable to 50% unfavorable rating.

Trump commented on their polar rankings in the polls by tweeting, “Congrats @LindseyGrahamSC. You just got 4 points in your home state of SC—far better than zero nationally. You’re only 26 pts behind me,” after the results were announced.

— Three candidates spoke to an audience of roughly 2,000 gathered at the annual Faith & Freedom Barbecue in Anderson Monday. Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker each spoke for about 30 minutes at annual barbecue was hosted by South Carolina Congressman Jeff Duncan. Anderson County voters cast ballots in favor of Mitt Romney by a 2-to-1 margin in the 2012 presidential election. Walker focused on his record as governor of a “blue state,” while Carson advertised himself as a political outsider and Cruz positioned himself as the anti-establishment candidate.

— Earlier in the day, Carson became the fourth candidate to officially file for next year’s Republican primary in South Carolina. Carson submitted the paperwork and paid the $40,000 filing fee at the state party headquarters in Columbia. He afterwards spoke to about 80 supporters who gathered to welcome him. Carson spoke briefly about immigration, saying he was very concerned about security after traveling to the border last week and said he could have climbed the border fence in his younger days. The doctor also made stops in Seneca and Anderson on Monday.

— Also on Monday, Walker said the United States needs to “push back” against China, telling a small audience in Spartanburg that the country’s currency manipulation is hurting the U.S. economy. The Hearld-Jornal reports Walker focused part of his message on the economy after the Dow Jones plunged more than 1,000 points Monday morning. During a campaign stop at the Carolina Pregnancy Center, he called on President Barack Obama to cancel Chinese President Xi Jinping’s upcoming visit to Washington.

Upstate mayor suspended from office after indictment

Mayor Rodney Turner (Image: LymanSC.Gov)

Mayor Rodney Turner (Image: LymanSC.Gov)

Governor Nikki Haley on Monday suspended from office the mayor of Lyman — a small town about eight miles west of Spartanburg.

The order suspended 58-year-old Rodney Turner after his indictment last week on wiretapping and misconduct charges. Among other accusations, State Law Enforcement Division warrants say Turner illegally set up recording equipment so he could track town employees’ conversations between February 21 and August 14, 2014.

The South Carolina Constitution gives a governor power to remove an elected town official if that official is indicted on a crime involving “moral turpitude.” The suspension is in effect until Turner is either acquitted or convicted. [Read more…]

13 SC forestry firefighters sent to battle western wildfires

SC crews in California last week (Image: Ben Kendall, forester from the Saluda/Edgefield/McCormick County Project)

SC crews in California last week (Image: Ben Kendall, forester from the Saluda/Edgefield/McCormick County Project)

More than a dozen South Carolina forestry firefighters are heading out to battle several different major wildfires in four western states.

The South Carolina Forestry Commission announced Monday that 13 employees will help fight fires in California, Idaho, Texas, and Washington. Six SC firefighters recently returned from two weeks in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest near Redding, California. The potential danger of the jobs were apparent last week, when three Washington firefighters were killed and another critically injured after a wildfire overran their wrecked vehicle.

Eight personnel were deployed to Texas, three to Idaho and one each to California and Washington in roles ranging from wildland firefighter and heavy equipment boss to public information officer and planning section chief.

“Wildland firefighters from around the country are called to help on out-of-state assignments whenever large fires overwhelm local and even regional resources,” said SCFC Duty Officer Brad Bramlett. “It’s dirty, dangerous and exhausting work, but they are trained for it. And we’re happy to send help when we can because you never know when we may need out-of-state assistance. Always being prepared and ready to go is just part of the job.”

The employees are working under a cooperative agreement the state agency has with three federal firefighting agencies: the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the National Park Service.