Federal Tort Claims Lawsuit Served on Federal and State Agencies
By Paul Gable
Service was completed yesterday for a federal lawsuit claiming, but not limited to, violations of the First, Fourth, Fifth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution by the U.S. Government, the State of South Carolina and Horry County.
Copies of the suit were served on the U.S. Government, the U.S. Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and 13 current or former FBI agents (N. John Benson, Phil Celestini, Paul Gardner, David M. Hardy, Kerry Haines, Noel Herold, Thomas Isabella, Jr., Michael Kirkpatrick, Thomas Marsh, Monte Dell McKee, Mathew Perry, George Skabula and Chris Swecker), the State of South Carolina, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division and four current or former SLED agents (Mark Keel, Larry Gainey, Michael Prodan and David Caldwell) and Horry County and its police chief John Morgan.
The lawsuit was brought by former stockholders of Southern Holdings, Inc. The action alleges that an incident involving several of the plaintiff stockholders and Horry County police officers resulted in the violation of the plaintiffs civil rights. It also alleges that coordinated actions among the federal, state and local law enforcement agencies resulted in a cover-up of the civil rights violations.
The violations of these rights included the placing of false entries in the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) resulting in a fraudulent arrest in August 2000. A South Carolina 15th Judicial Circuit Judge threw out the charges and ordered the fraudulent entries removed from the NCIC in April 2001.
When plaintiffs notified the FBI of this incident, the lawsuit alleges the FBI did not follow specific procedures outlined in its Manual of Investigative Operational Guidelines (MIOG) and never performed an investigation required by the MIOG.
The pleadings state, “The apparent motivation for the Federal Defendants participation in the violation of civil rights and the ensuing cover-up was that public awareness and judicial confirmation of the ease of civilian access to commit criminal acts using the FBI-NCIC system was not in the interests of the FBI.”
“The South Carolina Defendants motivation for participation in the conspiracy with the Federal Defendants in the civil rights violations under color of law was financial in nature in that the South Carolina Insurance Reserve Fund was the South Carolina state agency that would have been financially responsible for the damages associated with the civil rights violations under color of law,” the pleadings add.
This lawsuit was originally filed in Washington, D.C. Federal Court. On March 24, 2011, a federal district judge found that the proper venue for the lawsuit was South Carolina. The suit was dismissed in Washington, D.C. federal district court “without prejudice” meaning it could be re-filed in South Carolina.
It is important to note that in responding to the lawsuit filed in Washington D.C., each of the attorneys representing the various defendants claimed the suit had no merit and requested summary dismissal with prejudice so the action would be brought to an end. That step was not taken by the federal judge in Washington, leaving the conclusion that the judge at least believed the merits of the lawsuit were such that it should be heard in what he determined was the proper venue
The lawsuit was filed in South Carolina April 25, 2011 and service was completed yesterday. We will now see what happens as the legal manipulations progress.
Editor’s note: Paul Gable is an investigative reporter from Horry County.