HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) – Following the public release of an e-mail suggesting that he was seeking $20,000 from the candidates in exchange for his withdrawal from the race, Horry County Council candidate Dick Withington held a news conference Wednesday defending the e-mail he sent.
On Tuesday, WMBF News obtained a copy of the e-mail to the incumbent candidate Gary Loftus and other council members.
Withington, 72, was arrested and booked into the J. Reuben Long Detention Center at 1:31 p.m. on Tuesday, March 29, and charged with "inducement to file for, or withdraw from, candidacy for election," according to jail records. He was granted a $10,000 cash or surety bond.
The arrest came after one of the victims of the alleged inducement worked undercover with police to meet Withington and give him an envelope with $5,000.
Withington has filed to run for the Horry County Council District 4 seat currently held by Gary Loftus, as well as the District 34 seat in the South Carolina State Senate held by Raymond E. Cleary, III.
The e-mail sent by Withington that launched the investigation states, in part:
So here's the deal. You cannot be re-elected if I stay in this race. Yet, all addressees want to see [redacted] Reelected, it seems. In order for me to switch to Senate 34, which I am Ok with, I will need immediate substantial donations, offers of further support and endorsements. If this should occur in the next few days, I can change my filing, and even endorse [redacted] if the facts should so warrant..
We can discuss this face to face if anyone likes the concept here. This is just an idea that came to me as I have begun planning my campaign. I also expect that if I withdraw soon; that someone else will challenge you. Your chances would be better with whomever that person might be. The Choice is yours. Help me get a little help, maybe 20k and you win,, [sic] or spend a small fortune and you lose. I will keep my commitment, even if you go unchallenged, which might be good for you, but very sad and boring.
The e-mail closes:
I think we should keep this Confidential amongst ourselves. My conscience is clear, [redacted] because I have offered [sic] a fair option, which should make everyone happy,,[sic] I believe. My personal Coach, also known as the Holy Spirit has helped me write this. Good Night.
On Wednesday, Withington held a news conference outside his residence to defend the intent of the e-mail he sent. Withington said that he wrote the e-mail early in the morning, "after a few glasses of wine," and explained that, "I was just talking politics with a few other councilmen."
Withington claimed he committed no crime, saying he never intended to drop out of the race for Council District 4, "no matter how much money they gave me, or how many endorsements they gave me."
As proof, Withington presented business cards and stickers he printed before sending the e-mail, indicating that he is running for the seat.
Withington said that he was running to challenge Gary Loftus because of his advanced age, and because the voters in the county are unhappy with their representation.
Speaking about the e-mail, Withington said: "So I go on to say to Gary, despite your four years experience, I could do a much better job for the people of Horry County going forward. He's done a pretty good job in the last eight years. I have no problem with that. But, I've witnessed that he's in physical decline and he is 76 years old and this is a four year term." Withington is 72 years old.
Withington went on to say: "Before, the voters are currently unhappy. They're unhappy that they're not being represented. They're unhappy that when I go around and talk to them they don't know who their councilman is. They're unhappy when I say it was Gary. They're unhappy they don't even know who he is."
The South Carolina Code of Laws, Title 7 on Elections, states, in part, on the charge of "inducement to file for, or withdraw from, candidacy for election":
"(A) It is unlawful to offer or accept, or attempt to offer or accept, either directly or indirectly, money, a loan of money, or any other thing of value which includes, but is not limited to, employment or the promise of employment to induce a person to file or withdraw as a candidate for any state or federal elected office.
"Any person convicted of violating the provisions of this section shall be fined not more than ten thousand dollars or imprisoned for not more than one year."