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Former Solicitor Dan Johnson enters plea deal in federal criminal case

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Prosecutor Spending (Nov. 26, 2018 copy) (copy)

Former Fifth District Solicitor Dan Johnson agreed to plead guilty to wire fraud charges on Monday in a deal with federal prosecutors.  File/Tracy Glantz/The State via AP

COLUMBIA — Former 5th Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson inked a deal with federal attorneys Monday, agreeing to plead guilty to wire fraud in exchange for other criminal charges being dropped against the former Richland and Kershaw County prosecutor. 

The plea agreement, which could still land Johnson in prison for up to 20 years, was announced a day before he is set to arrive at the federal courthouse in Columbia for a hearing in the case. 

A federal grand jury indicted Johnson in September on more than two dozen criminal charges, including conspiracy, wire fraud, mail fraud and theft of federal funds. All but one of those charges will now be dropped. 

The criminal case itself stemmed from several stories the Post and Courier published nearly a year ago. They revealed how Johnson and Nicole Holland, one of his aides, misused public funds for luxury Uber rides, lavish office parties and memberships at a swanky club in Columbia.

For her part, Holland pleaded guilty to federal charges of mail fraud and wire fraud last November. She has yet to be sentenced. 

It's up to U.S. District Judge Cameron McGowan Currie to decide how long Johnson spends behind bars. He could also pay a fine of up to $250,000. 

The plea deal does not mean Johnson's legal headaches are over, however. He also faces similar state charges, including misconduct in office, embezzlement and obtaining property by false pretenses.

State prosecutors allege Johnson and Holland raided the office's drug-seizure accounts to cover personal expenses and hotel stays, even though the law requires those funds to be spent only on fighting drug crimes.

The state charges got even longer last week. Johnson, a former member of the S.C. Air National Guard, was accused Friday of charging $2,000 in military travel expenses to his state government credit card and then pocketing the reimbursements, according to a new indictment.

Gov. Henry McMaster removed Johnson from office when the state and federal charges were first dropped in September.

An audit of the solicitor's office later confirmed Johnson and Holland used public funds to pay at least $43,000 in personal expenses, including out-of-state trips. 

Late last year, Johnson was also accused of obstructing justice after investigators discovered he'd erased data from his work-issued iPhone and iPad. 

Johnson is expected to appear in court Tuesday afternoon.

Reach Andrew Brown at 843-708-1830 or follow him on Twitter @andy_ed_brown.

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