County Attorney Tried to Directly Influence SLED Investigation

By Paul Gable

New information has surfaced that demonstrates Horry County attorney Arrigo Carotti not only attempted to tell SLED investigators what direction their investigation of Horry County Chairman Johnny Gardner should take but also what conclusions they should and should not draw as a result.

Allegations of extortion against Gardner, began with a five-page memo written by Carotti, from December 14–19, 2018, in concert with input from county administrator Chris Eldridge. The memo also attempted to implicate Luke Barefoot, Donald Smith and myself in this fictitious plot.

Eldridge sent the Carotti memo to SLED December 20, 2018 requesting the agency investigate the allegations, but only after the memo was leaked to and published by a Columbia internet media outlet early in the morning of December 20th.

Eldridge told county council members, during a March 5, 2019 special meeting of council, he sent the memo to SLED only after it was leaked in the media because “he didn’t want to be accused of a cover up.”

Before the results of the SLED investigation were made public, an attorney friend of mine told me his theory on the entire affair was that a civil conspiracy plot had taken place among players who were willing to go to any length to keep Gardner from taking office on January 1, 2019. Are we talking “Deep County” here?

With more and more journalists seeking additional information about the allegations against Gardner through Freedom of Information Act requests and questions of the various people included in this saga, new revelations have come to light in recent days that add significant credence to this theory.

Carotti’s original five-page memo is based completely on hearsay about supposed conversations, none of which Carotti nor Eldridge were party to. In his memo, Carotti states he began writing it on December 14th “as a result of events that have taken place since December 5 as memory fades over time and this debacle is broadening.”

Actually the events included in the memo began with a lunch meeting between Gardner, Barefoot and Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation officials Sandy Davis and Sherri Steele, which took place on November 30, 2018. A recording of this meeting would play a central part in both the Carotti/Eldridge allegations and the SLED investigation.

Information allegedly related to Carotti and Eldridge by Davis about the lunch meeting and possible prior conversations she had with Barefoot were the single source information Carotti and Eldridge used to develop their fictitious story.

When the Carotti five-page memo became public, Davis said, “A lot of it is fabricated.”

Through emails obtained by the Sun News through a FOIA request and published March 19, 2019, it can be seen Eldridge and former county council chairman Mark Lazarus were developing a story about Gardner through December 12-13, 2018 email conversations. In one of those emails, Lazarus first introduced the idea of contacting SLED.

Carotti was interviewed by SLED on January 7, 2019 about what he knew (or more accurately didn’t know but assumed through hearsay). Carotti sent a follow up email to SLED on January 8, 2019 in which he attempted to direct the SLED investigators on what questions to ask, what hard evidence to seek and what conclusions should and should not be arrived at. A copy of this email can be seen by clicking on the link below.

The Carotti email was originally obtained by reporter Charles Perry and published on the website March 22, 2019.

The email is only two pages in length, but reveals a wealth of information into the mindset of the author.

Carotti begins by insisting on the accuracy of his five-page memo, which was written entirely from hearsay. As an attorney Carotti must know hearsay information is not allowed as evidence in court specifically because of its unreliability.

In his email Carotti states, “It (the five-page memo) contains no opinions or draws any conclusions, and I have none today, as I do not investigate nor accuse – that is not part of my role as county attorney -…”

Carotti next goes on to offer questions he claims he would ask if he was a trial attorney “responsible for exploring the matter.” Carotti states, “I offer these not to tell you how to do your job, which I would not dare to do, but because both mine and Chris Eldridge’s integrity have been attacked,…”

Carotti  begins by claiming, if his sole source, Davis, claims anything in his five-page memo is fabricated “then she is not telling the truth and that is a fact…” (To paraphrase Shakespeare, ‘Methinks the Man doth protest too much.’)

Yet, in his original five-page memo, Carotti stated there are several versions of the story and he didn’t know what actually happened.

Can you imagine the mind of Carotti claiming his sole source of information is lying to SLED if she says anything in his memo is fabricated. Another example of why hearsay information is not allowed in court, but apparently fine for allegations against Gardner and others.

While decrying he is not trying to tell SLED investigators how to do their job, Carotti asks the following questions:

“Have you analyzed the entire recording …”

“Have you inquired about prior communications between Ms. Davis and Luke Barefoot…”

“Have you asked for hard evidence such as computers, laptops, ipads, tablets, cell phones, emails, text messages, financial records, correspondence, notes, memoranda, diaries,…”

Why does Carotti assume SLED did not? The SLED investigation report includes Eldridge emails and Lazarus emails. What Carotti refuses to admit, even to this day, is that there are no records of anything between the various people he targeted because nothing he alleged ever happened! The SLED investigation results were independently vetted by a review committee inside SLED then sent to Fifteenth Circuit Solicitor Jimmy Richardson who concluded nothing happened.

“Have you interviewed Mark Lazarus?” (Lazarus again)

“I am willing to take a lie detector test. Are they?” (A well respected defense attorney once told me he never heard an innocent person offer to take a lie detector test, but he heard a lot of guilty ones offer to knowing the results were inadmissible in court anyway.)

“Have you investigated the relationship I have been told exists between Donald Smith and Paul Gable?”

And on, and on, and on!

One can only imagine what questions Carotti would be asking of SLED if he were attempting to influence the investigation since he posed the above and other questions while not trying to influence the investigation, according to him.

Then comes the clincher from Carotti, the guy who said he has no conclusions:

“Your report should not come back as undetermined, inconclusive or unfounded. The least it should say is that the matter warrants further investigation.”

Thanks for not drawing any conclusions Carotti and for not telling SLED what their conclusions should or should not be.

Eldridge told county council at its March 5th special meeting, “I’m not judge and jury. It was not my place to do an investigation. I put it in the hands of the agency that’s supposed to do it.”

However, as we can see by Carotti’s January 8th email to SLED, apparently Eldridge (I cannot believe the email was sent without his knowledge) and Carotti did not trust SLED to do the investigation properly without their additional input.

This entire affair has been outrageous from the beginning. It began when Eldridge sent the Carotti memo, based entirely on hearsay, to SLED asking for an investigation.

On January 8th, Carotti attempted to tell SLED what to do with their investigation and what they should conclude from it.

However, I submit Carotti did not do his job as county attorney and Eldridge did not do his job as county administrator when they passed on mere hearsay to SLED, apparently hoping SLED would run in the direction they wanted.

Carotti and Eldridge did not look for any hard evidence backing up their allegations before sending the matter to SLED.

Carotti and Eldridge did not inform all members of county council of their allegations even though they certainly were chummy with Lazarus as they developed their story.

Carotti was quoted by Perry as worrying about his character and integrity being attacked and being defamed. But, he has no problem attacking the character of or defaming others on nothing but hearsay. And he can’t plead – “That’s what I was told.” When you write it, you own it.

Neither Carotti nor Eldridge would be in the position they are today, worrying about keeping their jobs, if they had acted as the professionals they claim to be. So far they have been saved by six members of council who apparently cannot see the forest for the trees on how Carotti and Eldridge attempted to set up Gardner with a SLED investigation.

Maybe the Deep Six, as I prefer to call those council members, Harold Worley, Dennis DiSabato, Tyler Servant, Cam Crawford, Gary Loftus and Bill Howard, who voted against Eldridge’s dismissal at the March 5th special meeting of council, will have to be replaced at reelection time before this matter is finally resolved. However, I prefer to think at least one will come to his senses before.

This will remain a story with legs until both Eldridge and Carotti are gone because the media will not stop digging for more information. Who knows, maybe an apparent civil conspiracy will morph into a criminal conspiracy by those who attempted to keep Gardner from taking office.

Link to Carotti’s December 19th hearsay memo: Attorney-Client-Privileged (1)

Link to Carotti’s January 8th email: Attachment #18 – Attorney Carotti’s Outline of Questions for SLED

Comments are closed.