Exactly one year ago today former county administrator Chris Eldridge, former council chairman Mark Lazarus and county attorney Arrigo Carotti went public with a plot to attempt to overturn the will of the voters by smearing incoming county chairman Johnny Gardner on the day of his swearing in.
In the week prior, Carotti had authored a five-page memo, with input from Eldridge and Lazarus, attempting to portray Gardner as being involved in a plot to extort money from the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation.
The memo was sent to council members as ‘Attorney Client Privileged’ in an attempt to try and give some official weight to the narrative and, within 12 hours, leaked to a Columbia media outlet to make the story public. The supposed facts in the memo were entirely fictitious.
As soon as the leaked story was published on the internet, complete with a copy of Carotti’s memo, Eldridge sent the memo to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division requesting an investigation.
Within a one day period, the plotters had linked the name ‘Gardner’ to the word ‘extortion’, spread the story statewide and used the publishing of the story as an excuse to contact SLED.
It was an email from Lazarus to Eldridge that first brought SLED into the conversation.
The problem was the story was complete fiction, But that didn’t stop the plotters. The apparent objective was to get Gardner to step aside from the office he had been elected to so that Lazarus could reclaim it. (At the time, apparently unaware of the provisions for filling a vacancy in a county office, they thought the Governor could make an appointment to fill the void and that appointment would be Lazarus who had been defeated by Gardner at the polls.
Within another 24 hours, the entire plot began to fall apart.
Carotti used alleged statements made by Sandy Davis, President and CEO of the MBREDC to both himself and Eldridge as a major source for his narrative, as well as a recording of a lunch meeting between Gardner, Davis and two others.
When contacted by media for comment about the Carotti memo, Davis was quoted responding about the memo, “A lot of it was fabricated.”