Prosecutor Spending (Oct. 2, 2018 copy)

In this April 10, 2017 photo, 5th district Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson confers with colleagues during a hearing in Richland County Court. Johnson was indicted Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018 on more than two dozen charges related to the misspending of public funds on trips to foreign countries including the Netherlands and the Galapagos Islands. (Tracy Glantz/The State via AP)

COLUMBIA — In his first public comments since state and federal indictments on embezzlement and fraud charges, Columbia prosecutor Dan Johnson publicly denied the allegations that he spent tens of thousands in public money on himself. 

Asked after his court hearing Tuesday if he denied the charges, Johnson told The Post and Courier, "Of course I do." He refused to discuss details. 

The lawyer for a top Johnson aide who is also charged with federal theft and fraud charges — his former communications director Nicole Holland —  told reporters some of the allegations against her have been mischaracterized. 

"We intend on trying to correct a lot of those misimpressions," Columbia lawyer Clarence Davis said, declining to elaborate.

Pending the charges, Gov. Henry McMaster suspended Johnson as 5th Circuit Solicitor for Richland and Kershaw counties, a position he held since 2011. Holland left her post months ago.

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

At their first appearance on those charges during Tuesday's hearing at the federal courthouse in Columbia, U.S. Magistrate Judge Shiva Hodges approved Johnson and Holland's release, each on the minimum of a $25,000 unsecured bond. 

Johnson still hasn't hired a permanent lawyer. He agreed to update Hodges on his counsel in an Oct. 16 hearing.

Johnson and Holland also face state charges of misconduct in office and embezzlement after another round of grand jury indictments alleged the pair raided Johnson's drug-seizure accounts to cover personal travel and lodging expenses.

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.

They've both surrendered their passports and are under court order not to leave the state. 

The indictments followed reporting by The Post and Courier that detailed transfers of tens of thousands of dollars from Johnson's 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.

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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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