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S.C. prosecutor lawyers up, orders review, removed from Greenville sheriff case

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dan-johnson-IMG_0070.jpg (3/28/2018 copy)

Fifth​ Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson speaks with supporters during a campaign event at Tin Roof in Columbia on March 14, 2017. Joseph Cranney/Staff

COLUMBIA — Fifth Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson — embattled over reports of lavish office spending — has hired attorneys, started an independent audit and been removed from a review of sexual misconduct allegations against the Greenville County sheriff. 

He also has not filed for re-election with hours remaining before the deadline Friday.

S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson moved the Greenville case after Johnson hired one of Sheriff Will Lewis' lawyers to his own legal team, Beattie Ashmore. Johnson retained Ashmore and attorney Wally Fayssoux to defend him in an investigation into the solicitor's office spending. 

The decision to move the case does not signal that law enforcement has drawn any conclusions about Johnson in its probe, said Robert Kittle, spokesman for the attorney general.

The management of Johnson's own office came into question this month when The Post and Courier reported on Johnson's thousands in charges for out-of-state tripsclub memberships and payments to Johnson’s brother on his office credit card over the last several years.

SLED launched an inquiry into Johnson's office almost immediately after the news broke. The FBI has since joined the case.

In a statement Wednesday, Johnson said he authorized an outside review of his expenses. The audit would be overseen by a third party to “ensure complete transparency as to the 5th Circuit Solicitor’s Office use of public money,” the statement said.

“Solicitor Johnson will continue to fully cooperate with the production of records and will insure the county receives a full accounting of all expenditures to insure his office has and will continue to be a good steward of public funds.”

Johnson had vowed to run for a third term this year as the chief prosecutor in Richland and Kershaw counties. As of Thursday evening, he hadn’t filed for re-election, according to state election online records. The deadline to file is noon Friday.

Fayssoux declined to comment when asked if Johnson was running. Johnson, who has said little since the first reports about his office's expenses, did not return phone and email messages this week.

Byron Gipson, a Columbia lawyer, filed for the race Tuesday with the support of a former Johnson backer, S.C. House Democratic Leader Todd Rutherford. 

In the decision over the sheriff probe, Fayssoux said it was appropriate for Wilson to reassign the Lewis case to 16th Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett, who represents York and Union counties. 

"It’s exclusively in his discretion of where he wants to send cases, and I take no issue with that," Fayssoux said.

Wilson also moved one of Johnson's criminal cases to the 2nd Circuit, also because of a conflict with Johnson's legal team, Kittle said.

Fayssoux has represented law enforcement officers in state and federal courts, while Ashmore served as a prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in South Carolina from 1990 to 1996.

The State Law Enforcement Division in October announced it would partner in its investigation of Lewis with the 5th Circuit Solicitor's Office, which prosecutes cases in Richland and Kershaw counties.

SLED launched that probe after a former employee accused Lewis in a lawsuit of sexual assault during a 2017 business trip to Charlotte.

In their statement, Johnson's lawyers said, “Solicitor Johnson continues to serve the citizens of Kershaw and Richland counties. The 140 members of the 5th Circuit Solicitor’s office are effectively and fairly prosecuting cases every day.”

Follow Joseph Cranney on Twitter @joey_cranney.

Joseph Cranney is an investigative reporter in Columbia, with a focus on government corruption and injustices in the criminal legal system. He can be reached securely by Proton mail at jcranney@prontonmail.com or on Signal at 215-285-9083.

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