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SLED Chief: 'No misuse of public funds' - Live5News.com | Charleston, SC | News, Weather, Sports

SLED Chief: 'No misuse of public funds'

Obviously over the last few days SLED had been asked by a number of people to look into a number of allegations regarding the use or alleged use of of public money for any improper purposes on the governor's relationship that he revelaed recently.

SLED has over those last couple days viewed public records from the comptroller general's office, budget and contro lboard, and the governor's office. We also reviewed private information that was provided by the governor regarding his personal financial records.

SLED at this time, I will say in regards to this relationship, we have found no improper use of public funds. That is the scope of our review during the entire process the governor's office and the governor was extremely cooperative. The governor even availed himself for an interview with SLED and we have come away with absolutely no evidence or suggestion that any public funds were used in an improper manner.

I will just say that there are a number of other questions that have been submitted to SLED or raised by members of the public or General Assembly that they wanted SLED to look at. I repeatedly said what SLED will not do is get involved in matters properly in the political realm. We have not done that nor will we do that.
Those are questions best left to either the general assembly or to the governor's office to answer. Our scope is very narrow. I will add, once again, that this was not a criminal inquiry; it was not a criminal investigation. At no time during this period of review did SLED learn any information, any facts, any evidence that suggests that a crime had been commited.

As you all know, the way our criminal justice system works, as a criminal law enforcement agency, you need that to begin. You normally do not just start going through people's documents or through their personal life in an investigation. In this case, the governor was cooperative. He cooperated with our review; he provided information to us that would answer the question of was there an improper use of public funds and we're satisfied that there was none.

We will do a report which we will forward to the Attorney General and to the State Ethics Commission regarding our findings and they can take whatever action they believe they need to.

On the scope of the investigation: Our scope was to look at the relationship that was revealed by the governor and the time period for which he revealed that he had contact with that individual since he became governor.

We looked at the trips he took beginning with the 08 department of commerce trip which the governor has repaid the state treasury for. Our conclusion is that was a decision he made on his own to reapy those funds for appearances sake. The trip was legitimate. He conducted business on behalf of the state during that trip and whatever else he did during that trip in no way changed the legitimacy of that trip.

On trips SLED looked into: We looked at trips as he indicated there were times he went to New York, for example to visit this individual and have contact with her. He provided not only personal financial records which indicated he paid for those trips or that some other entity paid for him to have been to New York on business. But we also reviewed state documents which showed there was no expenditure of state fund at all during those trips t o New York.

On the public accepting the legitimacy of the investigation: That question has been raised a good bit over these last few days and quite honestly, here's my response because it really is aggravating me a little bit. The governor cannot fire me whether we found something or not. I personally have done and have been involved in in other capacities investigation that are far more real and substantial than this. Tough decisions had to be made. We had to make decisions on whether to prosecute or not prosecute. At the end of the day, everywhere I've gone in my career, I do the right thing. We've done that here and at times, though, in these jobs, people believe that the only way you can prove your objectivity and your fairness is to find something and charge somebody with something. Sometimes fairness means standing up and saying "there's nothing there."

We looked and there's nothing there. And having the guts to actually say that to anybody who wants to allege or continue to allege that there was some wrongdoing in light of the fact that there has never been one shred of evidence or one piece of fact that anybody has put forward suggesting otherwise.

On there being need for further investigation: I'm saying in terms of looking at it from a criminal standpoint, was there a criminal violation of misuse of public funds? -- we have found none nor has anybody brought us any facts to suggest that our findings are questionable or that there should be another investigation into the matter. The facts, if somebody comes out after this and brings forward some sort of fact that suggests otherwise, then maybe we would look at that depending on the legitimacy of those facts or allegations. If the General Assembly wants to look at his records they are free to do so. The man has been open with us. Anybody that had questions about this could have done what we did and actually did before the Attorney General and others started saying "we want SLED to go in and investigate something" we just called over there and said "hey we would like these documents. we would like you to make yourself available" and he immediately said yes.

They actually provided more than enough not only to show us these trips but other expenditures.

On what the governor provided: He provided his personal financial records, credit cards, and other financial documents showing that he had spent money on behalf of himself either for travel or lodging or other expenses.

On when SLED interviewed Sanford: Yesterday (Wed). I won't get into too many of those details other than to say that we questioned him about the instances of travel where he met this individual, questioned him about how he paid for those or how he happened to be in those cities and everything he said matched up with the documentation that he provided.

On the trips SLED reviewed: We're looking at... obviously we are not looking at trips before he became governor, so if you go back to 2001 where he starts off, we're not looking at that. You all already know about the trip that he just came back from and we discussed the Argentine Department of Commerce trip to Brazil and Argentina. In between there, there were trips to New York and several occasions where he indicates he visited this young woman and they provided paperwork showing how he traveled there in terms of airfare -- who paid for that -- his lodging, any meals and expenses incurred in that time period. We also looked at the documentation during those time periods from the state to see if there were any reimbursements to him or to his office regarding those trips.

On the number of trips: That's right. There's one trip to New York that actually involves international travel where he flew back into the United States and into New York, but that was a Republican Governor's Association sponsored trip.

On how many trips were funded and by whom: There is a part of that trip that was paid for by the RGA that gets him out of the country and back into the country and then, some personal expenses obviously during that time that he paid for himself. And there's other non-state related functions that he attended. There's a trip from Washington DC to NY that he paid for himself and paid all the expenses related to that.

And he did so, again, not on state business but on political business that was paid for by a political entity. The other trips were obviously paid for out of his own pocket.

On the Argentina trip's legitimacy: Based on interviews and documents from the Department of Commerce, the argentine trip was totally business, it was not set up by the governor, they were going to Argentina. The visits, both with governmental and with private individuals, companies that he was talking to was set up through the Department of Commerce and through the US Embassy down there. The governor never had any contact with the Department of Commerce saying 'let's set up this leg of the trip' or anything like that. He was invited to go on the trip by the Secretary of Commerce and, in fact it's a public trip. All of those international trade trips are public trips and they are posted on the Department of Commerce website. Any citizen that will pay their own way can join those trips and they are set up by the department. We were happy after looking at the documentation and after talking to folk over there that it was a legitimate trip which he did business on behalf of the state while he was there.

On the repayment of the Argentina trip: Let's be clear about this. Those are the kind of mischaracterizations that start the public's misunderstanding of what's going on. he was on a business trip and what he did on his own time is his own business. State employees go on business trips all year long all over the place, conferences. What they do at night is their business as long as it's not illegal, we generally don't ask them what they do. If you go to a ball game at night and you happen to be at a city at a conference, you're free to do so without having to owe the state any money. That's what happened here. He was there on legitimate business, he attended the meetings, both with governmental officials and with private companies, and what he did on his personal time does not change that. It doesn't make it illegal; it doesn't require him to pay back anything. He did so for his own reasons and he's discussed those for appearances sake and for public outcry. He paid that money back voluntarily. But there is absolutely no legal requirement that he pay back any of that.

On questioning Sanford about other women: As I understand in our conversations that he is referring to instances before he was governor so we did not get into details of those.

On the Department of Commerce's statement about the Argentina trip: I think you're mischaracterizing what was said by Joe Taylor. They were going to Brazil. There was going to be a trip to Argentina -- I believe there was a hunting trip to go bird hunting. The governor didn't want to go bird hunting or did so for a day or a day and a half. While he was there, or because he was going to be there, he asked that they set up some business meetings which they did. He didn't control what they set up, didn't ask them for any particular meeting with anybody or to extend the stay or anything like that.

On the trip allowing him to meet with her: I think you're making a leap. You're saying he could not have gotten from where they were to Buenos Aires. The hunting trip was on their own dime. The governor's trip to BA was set up by the Department of Commerce and the US Embassy to allow him to meet with governmental officials and certain private companies down there to discuss trade issues. According to everybody, those were legitimate meetings.

On the trip being asked for by Sanford: The governor said, 'while I'm in Argentina I want to do some work' not just go bird hunting. Look guys, this isn't a WorldCom scam; this isn't Bernie Madoff. We know when he had contact with this woman and we know what documents exist both on the state side and his personal side which would indicate who paid for his trips. It, quite frankly, didn't take very long to review those records to ascertain no state money was spent. 

On who else paid for his trips:  One of his trips was paid for by the RNC or some arm of the RNC and one was actually by the Republican Governor's Association.

On who paid for the 2004 NYC trip: One was a personally paid for trip. I'm not sure which one you're referring to... He paid for that himself. He paid for that and a friend to go with him.

On the timeline of the review: Late last week we began to look at the Argentine trip. We had a meeting with our office, the Attorney General's office and ethics commission Monday at which time, and I don't want to characterize anything on their behalf, I think they can speak for themselves, when I walked out of there at least in my mind, we had absolutely nothing to suggest that anything had been improper or that any laws had been broken. In the course of preparing to respond regarding the Argentine trip organized by the Department of Commerce, he did the interview Tuesday morning with the AP. In that interview he talked about other visits and contact with the individual and I, just with an abundance of caution, I called over to the governor's office and asked for documents related to those visits which they began to pull together for us. I called back again and asked for other documents. We also began to look at documents that other governmental agencies held relating to any payments that might have been made by the state government that might have been associated in any way with these trips.

During the course of doing that is when other folks began asking SLED to do an inquiry or an investigation and once again I think the fine line you are treading here is that we never had, during the course of this entire two weeks, any fact or any substantive allegation other than speculation and just outright curiosity. Nobody ever brought us any fact or evidence to suggest that any laws had been broken and the governor, thankfully, was extremely cooperative and made himself available, made his financial documents available to us. This wasn't very hard. Either, on these trips, the state paid for them and there's a record or he paid for them. In this case there are records indicating who exactly paid for which portions of these trips be they him personally or, becuase they might be tied to a political event, they were paid for by the RGA or the RNC.

On the number of requests received: We've gotten a ton. I'll be honest with you, we've gotten a ton. SOme of them are purely legal questions, some of them are purely political questions. As I've said before, if legislators want to know what it takes to impeach the governor, our constitution spells that out. They could also ask the Attorney General's opinion that legal question. We don't get involved in that nor should we get involved in that. Other questions were purely political and we're not going to be involved in that. Others are, again, some of these questions I would characterize this way: Go see if the governor did anything illegal. Guys, I have to be serious about this. This is pretty much unprecedented when you ask a criminal law enforcement agency or a prosecutor to go prove that you did something, or you didn't do something, when nobody brings in one shred of fact suggesting that you did and that's pretty dangerous territory.

Now if folks want us, when somebody makes an allegation against a public official, if folks want to allow SLED to do an investigation in the absence of evidence then they should pass a statute and say any time any allegation is made against an elected official in this state or a public official, SLED is imbued with the power to go investigate. We wouldn't have had probably cause to ask him for the personal documents he gave us. But he gave them and he agreed to not only give them to us but to avail himself to answer any questions about them or related to his travels. I think we have to be very careful about some of the requests that I think are out there about what SLED should go investigate or look at next. I just think we are in some dangerous territory. Until we get some file that shows a violation or the possibility of some violation and we're able to establish the credibility of that fact or evidence, SLED is done.

And we don't intend to be used in a political battle about the governor or over the governor. If you've got some facts you want to bring to our attention then by all means bring them to our attention and we'll pursue them. But when you talk about objectivity here and conflict of interest, here's the bottom line. A conflict of interest is when there is some personal conflict there between you and who you're trying to investigate; you have some benefit either by going after that person or by not going after that person. It won't change my life one way or another if we find evidence.

This is what I would urge the public to do. Any one of them can do this. They're public documents that they can FOIA that spell out what has ever been paid to the governor in his six and a half years. They can do like we did and match those up with the dates that he traveled. It ain't rocket science. It won't take them that long. If they don't trust what we're telling them, when we do this all day all year long, they can FOIA these documents and they can look and see when he traveled to New York -- he's told them, he's told everybody. He's told everybody exactly when he's met with this woman and they can look at it for themselves. Either you're going to find an expenditure or you're not. And if you don't find an expenditure, that means there were no public funds spent on it. It's that simple. So if they don't trust that, they can look at if for themselves.

On state money being used when the mistress was around: No, no. You guys know Mark Sanford. With all due respect to the governor, the man doesn't like to spend money. There aren't a whole lot of documents to go through. It's actually almost shocking at how little he's been reimbursed over the last six and a half years. I am basing it on the times he told us he has had contact with her. And even in his interview with us he said those are the times he had contact with her. He wasn't on a polygraph at the time so I'm going by his word. There are absolutely no expenditures at all by the state to him or for any purpose.


 

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