S.C. prosecutor Dan Johnson discusses his expenses (Sept. 27, 2018 copy)

Midlands prosecutor Dan Johnson. File/Joseph Cranney/Staff

COLUMBIA — In his first court appearance on public corruption charges, Columbia prosecutor Dan Johnson had nothing to say about allegations that he spent thousands in taxpayer dollars on himself. 

He didn't address the state charges of misconduct in office and embezzlement introduced during Thursday's brief hearing in Columbia, declining to give a statement when offered by Circuit Judge Clifton Newman. 

Johnson exited the courtroom out a back door and didn't speak to reporters. 

Newman approved Johnson's release on a personal recognizance bond of $25,000 and ordered Johnson to surrender his passport. The same bond was set for Nicole Holland, a former top Johnson aide, who also faces misconduct in office and embezzlement charges. 

Holland also didn't address the allegations.

Indictments last week from a state grand jury allege the pair raided Johnson's drug-seizure accounts to cover personal and lodging expenses, even though the law requires forfeiture funds to be spent only on fighting drug crime.

A federal grand jury also indicted Johnson and Holland on Sept. 18 on fraud and theft charges, alleging Johnson "abused his position" and along with Holland spent at least $55,000 in public money on personal expenses. 

An arraignment on those charges is scheduled for the Columbia federal courthouse on Tuesday.

The indictments followed reporting by The Post and Courier that detailed Johnson's transfers of tens of thousands of dollars from his drug-seizure accounts to his government credit cards. 

Johnson and Holland used those same cards to charge thousands on travel to South Americalavish office parties and medical bills, among other questionable expense, the newspaper reported. 

The Post and Courier pinpointed the charges in thousands of public records from Johnson's office obtained by PAPR, a South Carolina watchdog group. 

Pending the indictments, Gov. Henry McMaster suspended Johnson as 5th Circuit Solicitor for Richland and Kershaw counties, a job he's held since 2011. Thursday's hearing took place in a third-floor courtroom at the Richland County Courthouse, next door to Johnson's former office.

In a black suit and striped maroon tie, Johnson stood while state prosecutor Josh Underwood briefly detailed the charges and requested the judge order Johnson to surrender his passport and not leave the state. 

"Mr. Johnson is a well-known international traveler," Underwood said. 

Johnson and Holland were both represented by pro bono attorneys and it's unclear if they'll represent themselves in the case or hire defense lawyers.

Johnson and Holland have mostly refused to explain their expenses, citing the pending investigations. Johnson did say in March that he was unaware that any federal, state, Richland or Kershaw county appropriated tax dollars have been used inappropriately.

State and federal investigators launched probes almost immediately after The Post and Courier's initial report.

The state charges carry penalties of five to 10 years in prison. The federal charges of mail fraud, wire fraud and theft of government funds carry penalties of 10 to 20 years and each carry fines of up to $250,000.

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Follow Joseph Cranney on Twitter @joey_cranney.

Joseph Cranney is a reporter based in Columbia, covering state and local government. He previously covered government and sports for newspapers in Florida and Pennsylvania.

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