S.C. prosecutor Dan Johnson discusses his expenses

Midlands prosecutor Dan Johnson said Friday, March 30 he would run for re-election despite an ongoing state and federal investigation into his office spending.

COLUMBIA — As embattled Midlands prosecutor Dan Johnson fights to keep his job, the tally of public dollars spent on his travel and entertainment continues to mount. 

Records obtained by The Post and Courier show Johnson paid his brother $6,000 in recent years to deejay office Christmas parties — twice the amount previously reported by the newspaper.

In another freshly uncovered move, Johnson in 2016 shifted roughly $9,800 from his office’s drug-seizure account to a credit card he used for trips to California and Europe. While on the West Coast, the 5th Circuit solicitor charged nearly $2,000 on the card at a hotel in Anaheim. He spent another $300 at an Orange County bowling alley.

Johnson, who oversees prosecutions in Richland and Kershaw counties, also charged $605 for what appears to be a trip to Poland, adding to the charges for his globe-trotting adventures. 

Those purchases join a lengthy list of curious expenditures that have sparked ongoing investigations by the State Law Enforcement Division and the FBI. The two agencies launched inquiries after The Post and Courier reported on thousands of dollars Johnson's office had spent on out-of-state trips, club memberships, luxury Uber rides and other expenses.

The initial revelations were found in voluminous spending records obtained by PAPR, a South Carolina watchdog group. These latest finds came after The Post and Courier dug deeper in Kershaw County records and examined hundreds of previously unpublished invoices that contained Johnson's credit card statements from the past three years. 

The records raise even more questions about Johnson's penchant for spending public money on events far away from the courtroom. 

The documents show, for example, that Johnson's office racked up $3,350 in charges at the Carolina Cup horse race between 2015 and 2016. That's on top of the more than $1,900 his office spent in 2014 for race tickets, food and other items. He also picked up the $3,267 tab last year to treat race guests a catered meal of beef tenderloin and Lowcountry boil.

Johnson's communications director, Nicole Holland, charged $840 at a Columbia Fireflies game in May 2016, adding to the $2,750 his office spent that year for what appeared to be Fireflies season tickets. Holland attached an unitemized receipt, so it's unclear what she purchased. She also charged $58 for two items at an apparel store. 

The new records also show $578 in tickets to Colonial Life Arena in May 2015 and a $100 charge at the Nickelodeon Theatre in Columbia in April 2015.

Johnson didn't return messages left by phone and email Monday. He has refused to discuss his spending but said he has hired an outside auditor to review his books. Johnson, a Democrat, is running for a third term against Columbia lawyer Byron Gipson in the party primary.

Johnson has also refused to address his payments to his brother Michael Johnson, also known as DJ Phlava. Records show he has paid his brother $1,500 annually since 2014 to spin tunes at the solicitor's office Christmas parties. Johnson’s office also covered roughly $3,600 in plane tickets for his brother and at least one co-performer to fly to Columbia from Phoenix between 2014-17.

S.C. ethics laws prohibit public officials from hiring their relatives. Michael Johnson didn't return messages left by phone and email.

The new records show Johnson used his office credit card to cover a $1,920 stay at the Hilton in Anaheim and a $318 tab at Lucky Strike bowling alley in Orange County in June 2016.

He charged the expenses just days after loading the card with nearly $10,000 in funds from his office's narcotic seizure account. The cash seized from drug busts is supposed to underwrite crime-fighting efforts in Johnson’s district. 

Johnson didn't explain what business purpose he had in California, though his credit card statement that month shows a $60 charge from the National Association of Drug Court Professionals. The group held its annual training conference in Anaheim that year, but those sessions ended three days before Johnson used his office card to pay for the hotel room, records show. 

It’s unclear how many nights he stayed at the Hilton. He didn’t attach a receipt.

It’s also unclear why $605 in charges appear on Johnson's card on July 18, 2016, for a flight from Charlotte to Poland. He didn't attach a receipt for those expenses either.

The Post and Courier previously reported that Johnson shifted thousands of dollars from his drug seizure account to his credit card in April 2017 just before he used the card to pay for a pricey trip to South America and the Galapagos Islands. 

Johnson has refused to discuss the trip or what purpose it served. The newspaper, however, recently found several photos that Johnson's wife, Rachel Golson, posted on her Instagram from South America that same month. They show her posing with giant turtles and sea lions on the Galapagos Islands, hiking Puerto Chino on the island of San Cristobal and touring an art district in Quito, Ecuador.

"This place made all my dreams come true," she wrote.

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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.