Newberry Sheriff Lee Foster

Newberry County Sheriff Lee Foster. Provided

A handful of South Carolina sheriffs received numerous gifts from vendors and constituents, ranging from conference door prizes to gift cards. 

But these sheriffs are outliers mainly because they aggressively reported their gifts, raising questions about whether other sheriffs failed to report their freebies.

Newberry Sheriff Lee Foster accepted at least 140 gifts totaling $4,800 since 2013, dwarfing gift amounts reported by other sheriffs, campaign records show.

His reported gifts include more than $1,000 in athletic tickets, a $300 Yeti cooler, more than $2,000 in gift cards, a $50 golf bag, a $20 gun bag and hundreds of dollars in meals. 

“I’m being honest by probably over-reporting things,” Foster said, explaining why he had so many more gifts than other sheriffs.

He said some gifts, such as the Yeti cooler and golf bag, were door prizes from corporate sponsors at sheriff conferences. They were given out at random, and his department doesn't do business with the vendors, he said. He said he doesn't play golf and gave the bag to a kid.

Many gifts came from friends and employees and were valued under $25. One came from a best friend he'd known since he was 18.

"Until his death, I reported his gifts to me and my family every year. Obviously his gifts were never to influence me or gain favor, however I chose to report this to be above board and open. ... 

“The fact that I over-reported does not make me wrong, nor does it make any other elected official wrong for reporting less,” he continued. “It is just my choice so the public and the media could review regardless of the limits of the law.”

Oconee County Sheriff Mike Crenshaw accepted more than $1,200 in gifts since 2015, including a $100 Bass Pro Shop gift card, a $50 embroidered badge, a $45 Yeti tumbler and hundreds more in gift cards, fruitcakes, smoked chicken and sausage.

As with Foster, Crenshaw said he takes pains to be transparent and report even the smallest gifts. He said he even reported gifts of $5 from a senior citizen at Valentine’s Day. 

Other sheriffs across the state reported few or no gifts, campaign disclosure forms show. For instance, at a National Sheriffs Association conference in 2017, Chester County Sheriff Alex Underwood won a free trip to the 2018 conference in New Orleans, including flights and hotel. Underwood did not report any gifts in 2017, State Ethics Commission records show. The commission declined to comment about Underwood's gift.

Are other sheriffs failing to document their freebies?

Both Foster and Crenshaw declined to point their fingers at anyone other than themselves.

“In my mind," Crenshaw said, "if you get a gift because of the office you hold, you should report it.”

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Reach Tony Bartelme at 843-937-5554. Follow him on Twitter @tbartelme.

Tony Bartelme is senior projects reporter for The Post and Courier. He has earned national honors from the Nieman, Scripps, Loeb and National Press foundations and is a three-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Reach him at 843-937-5554 and @tbartelme

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