By Paul Gable
Fifteenth Circuit Solicitor Jimmy Richardson issued a press release and report Thursday evening which included a letter to SLED stating, “Based on the information you uncovered and provided in your report of this investigation, there is no credible evidence of extortion by Luther “Luke” Barefoot or Johnny Gardner…”
A link to the entire 41 page report appears at the end of this story.
Richardson’s report brings to a close an investigation into an alleged extortion attempt by Horry County Council Chairman Johnny Gardner and his business partner Luke Barefoot.
The allegations were reported to SLED by Horry County Administrator Chris Eldridge and supported by a five-page memo authored by Horry County Attorney Arrigo Carotti.
The allegations centered around comments made, or more appropriately stated not made, during a business meeting at Rivertown Bistro in Conway. Present at the meeting were Gardner, Barefoot, Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Corporation President Sandy Davis and MBREDC Director of Investor Relations Sherri Steele. The meeting was audio recorded and the recording was a key piece of evidence in determining what had not taken place – namely any extortion attempt.
As the Richardson release stated, “The recording of the conversation is consistent in form and content with what Davis, Steele, Barefoot and Gardner described to you in their individual interviews about what was discussed and the manner in which it was discussed.”
The report goes on, “President Davis never told anyone that she felt pressured. President Davis never told anyone that they tried to extort money.”
Director Steele said, “We never felt threatened or felt like we had to hire them or pay them any money.”
All four participants reported that it was “a positive meeting.”
As the report states, “Davis and Steele repeatedly state they were not threatened or extorted and they are the sole eyewitnesses to the event, or non-event as the case may be.”
Only Eldridge and Carotti, neither of whom attended the meeting, found anything sinister in what Davis reported to them about the meeting. And the only reason they found anything sinister is because they apparently engaged in selective listening while looking for something to use against Gardner.
As we have stated in previous articles, the entire Eldridge and Carotti statements and the Carotti memo were based entirely on hearsay and, apparently, only what they wanted to hear, not what was told to them.
The four participants in the meeting had consistent statements about what took place at the meeting. Only Eldridge and Carotti had widely varying accounts of the meeting and they weren’t there!
The SLED report contains these interesting tidbits from the Davis interview, “After she (Davis) told Administrator Eldridge that there was a recording of the meeting, she (Davis) has felt threatened every day since by Administrator Eldridge and Horry County Attorney Arrigo Carotti.” And, “President Davis believed the reason Administrator Eldridge wanted a copy (of the recording) was because he wanted to release the recording before County Chairman Gardner was sworn in as Horry County Chairman.”
The Steele interview contains the following statement, “I just want it to be known that the only time that I have felt bothered, harassed or felt anxiety over any of this was from Chris (Eldridge).”
The report of the Steele interview also states, “From the beginning, Director Steele felt that Administrator Eldridge wanted the recording for malicious reasons.”
As for Eldridge and Carotti, they have their story and they’re stuck with it.
The only conclusions that can be drawn from the report is either Eldridge and Carotti intentionally attempted to set up Gardner for a SLED investigation or they are completely incapable of understanding what is told to them.
Either way, I do not see how it is possible for Horry County Council to justify allowing them to continue in their current positions with Horry County Government.
(Read the entire 41-page report at the below link. It includes reports of interviews with Davis, Steele, Barefoot, Gardner, Eldridge, Carotti and MBREDC board members Fred Richardson and Neyle Wilson. It quickly becomes obvious that Carotti and Eldridge had an agenda during this entire issue while the other six were reporting only what actually occurred.)
Link to Report: Bistro Meeting