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.”