By Paul Gable
Two bombs, actually explosive stories, were thrown into the middle of the Myrtle Beach city council election race Wednesday with potentially serious consequences for the incumbents in the few days remaining before next Tuesday’s voting.
Two separate stories carrying the explosives were filed by David Wren in The Sun News Wednesday evening.
The first story dealt with two trusts that incumbent council member Wayne Gray was appointed to oversee. The trusts were established by Gray’s uncle, William Rogers, to benefit Rogers’ wife and children.
According to Wren’s story, Gray borrowed $230,000 from the trusts over a period of years and was removed as the trustee in 2007. In 2008, Gray agreed to pay $92,500 to settle a lawsuit brought against him by his aunt, Debbie Rogers Idol. And documents regarding the case are missing from the Probate Court office in Conway.
But, Wren’s second story is the one I find most interesting. It deals with a S.C. Appeals Court decision to overturn a lower court ruling and allow prosecutors to use breathalyzer results in the felony driving under the influence case against Myrtle Beach restaurateur Michael Hilton.
Hilton was charged with felony DUI during the May Harley Davidson Bike Rally in 2008 when he failed to yield the right of way and turned in the path of a bike driven by Angelo Gonzalez. Gonzalez died from injuries suffered during the wreck and his passenger, Suzie Reader, remains disabled from injuries suffered in the accident.
Hilton was reportedly leaving a party at the home of one member what we now call the Myrtle Beach Mafia. The accident, reportedly, provided the impetus to spur attempts to get rid of the May bike rallies.
It was reported to me that a prominent member of the Myrtle Beach Mafia said the accident was the fault of the bikers. “If they weren’t here, this (accident) wouldn’t have happened,” was the actual quote.
Current 7th District Congressman Tom Rice made his maiden voyage into politics as the lead spokesman for banning the bike rallies.
Myrtle Beach city council passed a number of ordinances to discourage bikers from returning to the city. Horry County council basically passed on such a move.
In 2009, Myrtle Beach city council passed a one-cent local option sales tax for tourism advertising, promoted by the same Myrtle Beach Mafia. The tax currently provides the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce with approximately $22 million per year.
The excuse was need for increased tourism advertising in the wake of the recession brought on by the bursting of the housing bubble, but the negative publicity Myrtle Beach received for its harsh treatment of bikers was also a factor.
The passage of the tourism tax led to the infamous 2009 campaign contributions, a total of $324,000, in a series of consecutively numbered cashier’s checks to incumbent Myrtle Beach city council members, state legislative delegation members and at least two candidates for governor. The contributions were funneled through a group of LLC’s that had no office, no employees and no income. This is what is commonly referred to as the Coastal Kickback Scandal that is still, reportedly, being investigated by the IRS and FBI.
When the lower court ruled against allowing the breathalyzer evidence, it was felt the Hilton felony DUI case would go away. However, now it appears headed for the front burner again and the testimony in the case could be very revealing for the backstory to the Ban Bike Week, Myrtle Beach Mafia, Coastal Kickback tie-ins with Myrtle Beach city council members right in the middle.
Next week’s election will be long gone by the time the trial starts, no date has been set yet.
Maybe the challengers will not be able to get the message out, especially about the ties to the Hilton case, in time to change election results.
But for voters looking for a reason to vote against the incumbents, this is one.
Link to Wren’s story on Hilton case: http://www.myrtlebeachonline.com/2013/10/30/3804927/appeals-court-reverses-breathalyzer.html