February 28, 2015

Greenville County deputy arrested on accusations of taking bribes

Then-Deputy Shea Smith during a Special Olympics fundraiser (Image: GCSO)

Then-Deputy Shea Smith during a Special Olympics fundraiser (Image: GCSO)

A former Greenville County Sheriff’s deputy who was once third in command at the department is now free on bail after turning himself in Friday for two charges of official misconduct.

State Law Enforcement Division warrants accuse former deputy Brendan Shea Smith of accepting bribes from a man who operated illegal gambling establishment in exchange for helping the operator stay out of legal trouble, including sensitive information about ongoing investigations.

Smith was fired back in July after the initials accusations surfaced of his involvement with Izzat Khalil, a Greenville businessman who frequently had run-ins with the law over illegal gambling operations. The 13th Circuit Solicitors announced the charges Friday after a six-month investigation by SLED. Greenville County Sheriff Steve Loftis had requested the investigation to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest for his former third-in-command.

Loftis said he thought the investigation’s revelations disappointing, but said he has not lost faith in his deputies. “Just because one person in Shea’s case displayed the conduct that he has does not really cause any fear or create any reason for me not to trust the other remaining 342 deputies,” he told Greenville affiliate WORD News.

Khalil’s attorney said the businessman bought the deputy a truck and paid for his children’s school activities in exchange for information about Greenville County investigations into Khalil’s business and other gambling operations. Warrants state that, at some point between June 2008 and January 2014, Smith told Khalil “sensitive law enforcement information.”

Smith was charged with Misconduct in Office, and Public Misconduct in Office. He faces up to 11 years in prison if given the maximum sentence.

New report: Actual child poverty in SC lower than traditionally thought

 Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Annie E. Casey Foundation.

A just-released report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation shows that the federal government’s official poverty measure created in the 1960s uses outdated information on how U.S. families are faring today, failing to illustrate the effect of programs designed to help them.

The new KIDS COUNT® Data Snapshot report released on Tuesday, entitled “Measuring Access to Opportunity in the United States,” points to what the foundation considers a better index for measuring poverty – the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM). The SPM captures the effect of safety net programs and tax policies on families. By using the SPM, researchers say they have determined that the rate of children in poverty has declined from 33 percent to 18 percent as a result of these programs and policies.

“The official poverty measure does not provide the accurate information policymakers need to measure the success of anti-poverty programs – nationally and at the state level,” Patrick McCarthy, president and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, said in a statement. “Relying on this tool alone prevents policymakers from gauging the effectiveness of government programs aimed at reducing child poverty. Given that child poverty costs our society an estimated $500 billion a year in lost productivity and earnings as well as health- and crime-related costs, the SPM is an important tool that should be used to assess state-level progress in fighting poverty.”

The report found that the childhood poverty rate in South Carolina is below the national average. “We find that 17 percent of the children in South Carolina are living below the poverty line,” Director of Public Policy for the Annie E. Casey Foundation Laura Speer told South Carolina Radio Network.

“If it wasn’t for these government intervention programs, 31 percent of the children in South Carolina would be living below the poverty line,” Speer said. “Having the government programs like the Earned Income Tax Credit and food stamps have lifted about 150,000 children above the poverty rate in the state of South Carolina.”

The Supplemental Poverty Measure, created by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2011, factors in the impact of a number of social programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and takes into account rising costs and other changes that affect a family’s budget. Speer said the SPM also provides a more accurate assessment of poverty levels on a state and regional basis and helps illustrate, for instance, the variations in the cost of living and the impact of federal programs from one state to the next.

The report provides national and state-by-state data using the SPM to show the effect of a variety of resources to help low-income families. In a striking departure from official poverty rate data, the SPM shows that California has the highest child poverty rate, followed by Arizona and Nevada.

In every state, anti-poverty programs tracked by the SPM have led to a reduction in the child poverty rate. Because federal benefits are not adjusted for differences in regional costs of living, they are likely to have a more significant impact in states where the cost of living is relatively low. States and localities also vary in their contribution to the safety net programs and tax policies that can help move children out of poverty.  These federal and state programs and policies helped cut the child poverty rate by more than 20 percentage points in Kentucky, Mississippi and the District of Columbia. States where government intervention has had a lesser effect on decreasing child poverty include North Dakota, New Hampshire and Alaska.

“Continued investment in the development of the SPM can ensure our resources are directed in ways that give our children the best opportunity to succeed,” Speer said. “It’s critical that we look beyond just the federal poverty rate to evaluate the success of important social programs.”

SC Democrats pluck new director out of Kansas

Jason Perkey (Image: Association of State Democratic Chairs)

Jason Perkey (Image: Association of State Democratic Chairs)

The South Carolina Democratic Party (SCDP) has named a new executive director, in the hope that he can reverse the statewide party’s downward trajectory the last 20 years.

The party named Jason Perkey as its new non-elected leader Friday. Perkey comes to South Carolina from Kansas, where he led the state party for the past two years. He has also worked on campaigns in Kentucky, Illinois, and Virginia, according to a release from the SCDP.

The Louisville, Ky., native has some ties to the Palmetto State, getting his undergraduate degree from Coker College in Hartsville.

“I look forward to returning to the state where I earned my bachelors degree and to working with Chairman Harrison and the rest of the SCDP team to make sure Democrats are successful in the upcoming election and beyond,” he said in an emailed statement.

Perkey is the permanent replacement for previous executive director Amanda Loveday, who gave up her position in March 2014 to work in Congressman Jim Clyburn’s office.

He will have a difficult task ahead of him. South Carolina Democrats have not won an election to any statewide office since 2006. The party has also not held the Governor’s Office since 2003 and has been in the minority in both the House and Senate for the past 14 years. It also only has a single congressman among the nine representatives and senators who represent South Carolina in Washington.



Corrections officials give details on incident at Bishopville prison

Lee Correctional Institution (Courtesy: SC Department of Corrections)

Lee Correctional Institution (Courtesy: SC Department of Corrections)

South Carolina prison officials say they have once again secured a dorm at the state’s maximum-security prison near Bishopville after an “incident” Thursday afternoon.

Department of Corrections officials are still only giving a few specifics about the standoff at Lee Correctional Institution Thursday afternoon.

Corrections Department spokeswoman Stephanie Givens says the incident began when an officer was trying to search an inmate around noon. Givens said that escalated until numerous inmates eventually assaulted a total of seven officers. She said the officers were injured in the melee, but were never taken hostage.

A standoff then ensued for the rest of the afternoon and late into the evening. Just after 9 p.m., agency officials said an emergency team secured the dorm.

All seven of the officers who struggled with the inmates were taken to outside medical centers and later released. Two inmates were evaluated by medical staff at the prison, but their injuries were not seen as severe enough to receive hospital care

The disturbance remains under investigation by Corrections officials and the State Law Enforcement Division.

Former state Transportation Secretary pleads guilty in DUI case

St. Onge (at right) takes a field sobriety test as a Highway Patrol trooper watches shortly before his 2014 arrest (Image: SCHP)

St. Onge (at right) takes a field sobriety test as a Highway Patrol trooper watches shortly before his 2014 arrest (Image: SCHP)

South Carolina’s former Department of Transportation Secretary will avoid prison after pleading guilty to a reckless driving charge in connection to his DUI arrest last year.

Columbia TV station WIS first reported Robert St. Onge entered the plea in a Lexington County DUI court Monday and was given a $445 fine. The 67-year-old former Transportation Secretary was arrested in January 2014 after a Highway Patrol trooper stopped him for erratic driving on Interstate 20 in Lexington County.

Highway Patrol officials said at the time that St. Onge failed a field sobriety test and was taken to the Lexington County Detention Center, where law enforcement officials performed a breath test and found his blood-alcohol level to be 0.20 percent. The legal limit is 0.08 percent.

St. Onge resigned from SCDOT  later that day.