A federal grand jury on Tuesday indicted the lead prosecutor for the Columbia region on more than two dozen charges.
Fifth Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson had been serving out the last year of his term after losing a reelection bid in this summer’s Democratic primary. He will likely be suspended from office by the governor after Tuesday’s indictment.
The accusations stem from the use of public funds for foreign trips to locations such as the Galapagos islands and Europe. The indictments notes, on at least one occasion, Johnson’s public credit card was used to pay for hotel rooms in two different cities on the same night.
Also indicted Tuesday was the Solicitor’s Office communications director Nicole Hallett. The indictments include 13 counts of wire fraud, 11 counts of mail fraud, and one count each for conspiracy and theft of government funds.
The indictments claim Johnson and Hallett “would enrich themselves by using Solicitor’s Office funds to pay for personal expenses. These personal expenses would be reflected alongside business expenses… and then paid in full with Solicitor’s Office funds. The personal expenses included travel, vacations, romantic liaisons, medical expenses and double-reimbursements for military training.”
Both are accused of misusing more than $10,000 since 2016.
Johnson’s spending was detailed in a series of reports by The State newspaper after the nonprofit group Public Access to Public Records (PAPR) has able to obtain the Solicitor’s Office spending documents. PAPR was represented by former solicitor and Johnson’s political rival Dick Harpootlian’s law firm. The records detailed more than 70 days’ worth of travel over two years, including expensive hotel stays in cities were the University of South Carolina football team was playing that weekend.
The Fifth Circuit Solicitor’s Office oversees prosecutions in Richland and Kershaw counties. Johnson was defeated in his reelection bid this year by Democratic challenger Byron Gipson. Gipson ran for the seat after Johnson’s spending became public knowledge following The State newspaper’s reporting. Johnson has held the post since 2010.
Johnson has repeatedly insisted he did not intentionally misspend public money. He has maintained Harpootlian targeted him for going against him in a legal case. He also said many of the foreign trips were due to his service in the National Guard, although he later added in a letter following an August audit that he had repaid more than $25,000 in questionable spending.