Feds investigating after accountant discovers irregularities at Berkeley Co. Chamber of Commerce

Feds investigating after accountant discovers irregularities at Berkeley Co. Chamber of Commerce

BERKELEY COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - A Berkeley County administrator told council members Monday night a federal investigation of the county's chamber of commerce is underway.

Berkeley County Deputy Supervisor of Administration Tim Callanan issued the following statement Tuesday:

"At the request of the new advisory commission board, Berkeley County was asked to do a financial review of the accommodations tax records.  We did that. We hired an outside accountant. They did the review, and turned over the results. Based on that review, there were areas of concern that warranted turning it over to proper authorities. That is the limit of this administration's involvement."

At Monday's council meeting, Callanan told council the accommodations tax advisory commission voted in February for a limited audit of the tax fund for the two previous years. Callanan said the commission chairman Jim Rozier said they wanted to see expenditures, revenues and balances over the past few years just to ensure that everything was reconciled and correct.

A review of the fund's financial records brought up some things that warranted additional investigation, Callanan said. He told council members it had been confirmed to him an FBI investigation was underway.

When asked to explain what about the findings were suspicious, Callanan pointed to certain invoices and research into companies listed led him to believe that someone should look into it.

"I don't simply want to accuse anybody of anything in front of it, but I felt it was my responsibility to submit those to the necessary authorities to review, and that's what I did," Callanan said.

He said the materials were submitted to the State Law Enforcement Division and the FBI.

Callanan told the council the materials were submitted at least six or seven months ago and said the FBI agreed there were grounds for an investigation.

"It doesn't mean anybody did anything, but it means there was grounds for an investigation," he said.

Council members expressed concerns they had been told there was a full audit underway and that a full audit prompted an investigation.

Another council member said he contacted the chamber and was told there was a federal investigation underway and that the chamber has been subpoenaed.

Callanan said the account involved was controlled by the chamber. He said the tax advisory commission did not request a full, formal audit of a financial statement, but rather a limited review of some of the particulars of the account.

The accountant was paid $1,200 from the accommodations tax fund, which Callanan told council members was within the fund's budget, which includes a line for auditing or professional services.

Rozier justified the request for the review of the account by stating his committee was taking over the money of the tax fund and that there should be a clean slate.

"I would certainly love to see a complete audit if that's what you folks want," Rozier said. "Let's do a complete audit, let's call for one tonight."

Rozier told the council 22 organizations applied for funds.

"We have 22 applicants, only one's under investigation," Rozier said. "Twenty-one of them are not under investigation, but you're holding them up because one's under investigation."

He told the council everyone who receives money will have to provide an accounting of how the money was used.

"Right now, Berkeley County's considered a 'pass-through' county," he said. "I want it to become a destination county, and the way I think you do that is you develop a healthy county throughout the county, not just one end of it, not just one part of it."

He called for booths at various festivals to promote destinations throughout the county, adding that he believes even Berkeley County residents aren't aware of all the attractions in their own county.

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