SLED clears Horry County Council Chairman in extortion investigation

SLED clears Horry County Council Chairman in extortion investigation

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) – Horry County Council Chairman Johnny Gardner will not face criminal charges after state investigators determined he did not try to extort money.

Solicitor Jimmy Richardson reviewed the findings from the State Law Enforcement Division’s investigation and found no evidence that a crime occurred.

“Based on the information you (Special Agent Barkdoll) uncovered and provided in your report of investigation, there is no credible evidence of extortion by Luther ‘Luke’ Barefoot or Johnny Gardner during a lunch business meeting," Richardson said in his review of the case.


A request was made by the Horry County Administrator Chris Eldridge in December for SLED to review possible extortion.

Eldridge claimed that Gardner, who was newly sworn-in as the Horry County Council chairman, tried to manipulate Sandy Davis, director of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation, during a meeting with Barefoot, an associate of Gardner’s.

WMBF obtained a memo from My Horry News written by the county’s attorney Arrigo Carotti that detailed the meeting and the events since then.

The memo said that Barefoot threatened to have Grand Strand Daily blogger Paul Gable write a disparaging story about Davis’ lack of education unless the MBREDC hired Donald Smith for the organization’s public relations work. Smith could provide those services for $30,000 or $40,000.

According to the review, SLED’s investigation found “no evidence to show Barefoot or Gardner either verbally or nonverbally intentionally communicated any message to Davis and Steele forcefully, or applied extreme pressure to wrongfully exact something from them at a lunch meeting."

The review went on to say that there’s substantial evidence that it was a positive meeting and even at the end of it all four participants hugged and went their separate ways.

Richardson told My Horry News he could have forwarded the case to the state Attorney General’s Office and let the prosecutors review it, but he knew he could be fair to all parties involved.

WMBF News reached out to Carotti after Richardson released his review of the case.

He gave a statement to WMBF News:

“I have no comment to offer especially since I have not seen any of the SLED or solicitor documents. I reported appropriately to my client what I had been told. I respect whatever determination the solicitor has arrived at and have no personal interest in that determination.”

WMBF News also reached out to Horry County Government to get a comment on this decision. We have not heard back.

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