MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) – A Myrtle Beach woman who filed a lawsuit against Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce last month has filed an updated lawsuit that backs off on some of the allegations from the previous suit, and introduces new allegations, including directing taxpayer funds to an Ohio-based company with an employee connected to the chamber, and the suggestion the chamber directed money through so-called "Crony Companies" and chamber-connected companies to make political contributions to local candidates and political action committees.
The updated lawsuit, filed on May 14 by Karon Mitchell, drops Horry County as a defendant, and lists only the City of Myrtle Beach and the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce. The new suit still makes many of the claims of the previous suit, including the chamber consistently redirected taxpayer funds to businesses started by current and/or former members of the chamber, instead of holding an open bidding process for any company to receive funds.
The funds that were directed through the MBACC come from two sources: the county-level Accommodations Tax, and the local option of the Tourism Development Fee. A requirement of use of both these fund sources is that they go towards "research-based outcomes," which Mitchell contends did not happen. She claims that the funds instead went to "Crony Companies" and chamber-connected companies.
One new chamber-connected company listed in the updated lawsuit is Fahlgren Mortine, an Ohio-based marketing and communications company that Mitchell said hired Kimberly Miles, a public relations director at the MBACC, in 2012. The lawsuit states Fahlgren Mortine was paid $353,234 in taxpayer funds in 2017.
Battle Strategies and Miller Direct, two companies that were listed as "Crony Companies" in the previous lawsuit, are now listed instead as chamber-connected companies.
The updated lawsuit now also includes a section for political contributions by several companies, alleging that William Rosenthal, Visibility and Conversions, Scott Brandon, Brandon Advertising, Fuel Interactive, Miller Direct, and Fahlgren Mortine all made contributions to various political candidates and political action committees, including the Grand Strand Statewide PAC, the Grand Strand Restaurant PAC and the Myrtle Beach Lodging PAC.
The lawsuit again makes several allegations of illegal activity by the MBACC, including that it failed to comply laws by holding no public bidding process on the allocations of TDF and A-Tax Funds, and by choosing companies pursuant to research-based outcomes. The suit alleges the MBACC also failed to report the funds it received on a quarterly basis, and the City of Myrtle Beach failed to conduct a "meaningful review" of the reports that were provided by the chamber over the last eight years. The updated suit also claims that the MBACC redirected some TDF and A-Tax funds through its Crony Companies and connected companies in the form of political contributions to politicians supported by the MBACC.