WMBF News obtains recording at center of extortion investigation

Updated: Mar. 4, 2019 at 7:10 PM EST
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HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) – An audio recording obtained by WMBF news narrates a conversation between four people that led to the county administrator calling for a SLED investigation.

In the audio recording, Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation President Sandy Davis, Sherri Steele, Horry County Chairman Johnny Gardner, and his associate Luke Barefoot were meeting for lunch.

It’s difficult to hear some of the audio and decipher who is saying certain things. During part of the recorded conversation, they talk about Donald Smith and the Beach Ball Classic.


[ SLED investigating Horry County extortion allegations ]

[ Recording alleging extortion in Horry County given to SLED ]

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"I'm just going to uh, throw it up on the table... If i were y'all I would meet with him and look at retaining him for um political cover.. to protect your funding,” one man is heard saying.

"We can meet with him and we can tell him what he would have to do but unfortunately that’s all our members get from us is getting to do the work. That’s why they join. So, he would need to be a member of the EDC and any type of contract that we sign has to go in front of the board.. so we're for it,” said one of the women.

Donald Smith is talked about further in the recording.

“I know what I’m getting ready to tell you. I’ve worked on enough with him behind the scenes. He is a man behind the curtain.”

“Donald or Paul?”

“Donald. And he can work the hell out of council. I’m telling you.”

Later, the Beach Ball Classic is brought up.

“You know I told you about the um…the um…Beach Ball thing?”


“He sent me a proposal that I’m gonna forward to you.”


“And it’s um…it’s the number that we talked about. And I don’t know if you guys can do it, or not. But, if you can, I think it would be a good bid. And…again, I call it political cover. But um…now…how much is it to join the EDC?”

“500 a year.”

“Uh…he needs to join. We need to join too. At least some…one of our companies do.”

SLED documents with summaries of interviews were attached to the report released by the solicitor’s office.

Barefoot said during his interview that he only suggested to hire Smith because of the MBREDC’s public relations issues.

Horry County Administrator Chris Eldridge said during his interview that there was no reason for MBREDC to sponsor the Beach Ball Classic and the need for Smith to handle MBREDC’s public relations didn’t make sense either. Eldridge questioned why there was interest in giving Smith any money.

Solicitor Jimmy Richardson said when he spoke with Davis she never felt like anyone was trying to take anything from her or make her give anything.

Horry County Council called a special meeting Tuesday afternoon before their special council meeting to discuss the Eldridge’s employment. WMBF News will be there and bring you the very latest.

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