COLUMBIA— South Carolina's new inspector general already has opened investigations on as many as nine of the state's 22 executive branch agencies.
Jim Martin said Friday he has hired staff and will have them on the job by the end of the month to pursue several investigations at different state agencies he has authority to scrutinize after Gov. Nikki Haley appointed him to the job last month.
Martin won't specify which agencies or how many have investigations open, saying only that there are less than 10 so far and that the agency directors haven't been notified.
Martin, a former white-collar crime investigator for the State Law Enforcement Division, said his approach is to find out as much as he can through tips or reports by current or former agency workers before approaching the agency. That prepares investigators to know what they're looking for and helps avoid cover-ups.
'You don't want people working one step ahead of you,' Martin said.
The inspector general is supposed to find and prevent fraud and abuse. For instance, in 2010, former Department of Social Services finance director Paul Moore was sent to prison for 10 years after stealing more than $5 million between 2004 and 2008 and using it mostly on strippers, alcohol and gambling.
Haley appointed Martin, 64, as the state's second inspector general three weeks ago. The Republican created the $110,000-a-year post by executive order on March 11. The first inspector general, George Schroeder, left seven weeks later on April 29 amid concerns about the operation's independence.
Schroeder had only begun setting up the office when Martin arrived last month.
'I feel like I started from scratch,' Martin said, saying that it didn't appear that much organization had gone on.
There were no correspondence files or a filing system. Cases that began with Schroeder were stacked on his desk, and Martin had to research whether they had been resolved or needed work, facts Schroeder doesn't dispute.
'I didn't get anything started. I didn't have anybody in place,' Schroeder said.
Some details of Schroeder's brief tenure show up in more than 200 pages of e-mail and investigation files provided to The Associated Press under a Freedom of Information Act request.
The records show little correspondence from Schroeder, who said he doesn't like email and sent few messages to Haley staffers. There are some messages about moving a huge copier that had been stored in his new office and between Schroeder and people he planned to hire.
But nothing in the records suggests the dustup that ended Schroeder's brief tenure: a dispute about how investigators would be hired and paid. Schroeder said the governor's staff wanted those investigators to be employed and paid by other agencies in Haley's Cabinet — the same agencies they may have to investigate.
One of the emails shows Christian Soura, a top Haley aide, planned to have one of Schroeder's picks paid by the Department of Social Services, a Cabinet agency run by Lillian Koller.
That circumvents state budget laws that allocate money for agency operations and the workers who perform them, Schroeder said, recalling years earlier having criticized the practice as executive director of the Legislative Audit Council.
'It was a problem because it goes around the intent of the legislation that funded the agency,' Schroeder said, adding that the practice undermines the inspectors' independence. 'That's why I left. I couldn't put up with that.'
Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey said that's what is allowed now under the executive order power Haley used to create to the job. And that's the method of hiring Martin is using: he'll pick who to hire, but they will be paid as employees of Cabinet agencies, not the inspector general.
'Mr. Martin will hire investigators directly on his own just like Mr. Schroeder had the opportunity to do,' Godfrey said.
Schroeder said his resignation came after he'd met with Haley and her chief of staff, Tim Pearson, to suggest ways he could deal with those and other concerns and stay on the job.
'I never heard back from them ever again,' Schroeder said.
Except for his two-sentence April 29 resignation letter, the records show no communication suggesting Schroeder was gone or how his work was handled, including responding to tips on a new fraud, waste and abuse hotline. The silence intrigued Schroeder: no announcement that he was gone, and no questions about how to handle work he left behind.
That ended May 31 with a tip to a reporter that Schroeder had quit.
'I perversely began to wonder how long that could go on — and it went on until you called me,' Schroeder told a reporter.
Statehouse Democrats seized on Schroeder's departure and called for a state audit of the newly created operation.
SC inspector general starts several investigations
The news stories brought a call from Haley at 9 p.m. that night, Schroeder said.
'She seemed a little bothered that I talked to the press without notifying the office,' he said.