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Former solicitor’s aide pleads

Posted: November 5, 2018 5:00 p.m.
Updated: November 6, 2018 1:00 a.m.

In a press release issued late Thursday, South Carolina U.S. Attorney Sherri A. Lydon announced that Nicole Halliett Holland, 49, the 5th Circuit Solicitor’s Office’s former director of communications, pleaded guilty in federal court that day on one count each of wire and mail fraud. Senior U.S. District Court Judge Cameron McGowan Currie presided and set sentencing for Feb. 26, 2019.

According Lydon, facts presented in court established that from 2011 to March of this year, Holland -- employed by former 5th Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson -- used the office’s funds to pay for personal expenses. Using a solicitor’s office credit card issued to her to pay for office-related expenses, she made the following unauthorized purchase:

• May 2017 -- various hotel stays at Hampton Inn and Suites in Hopkinsville, Ky., totaling more than $2,700, correlating to Count 11, wire fraud, of a multi-count indictment against her and Johnson, for an Aug. 7, 2017, payment covering those expenses.

• March 2017 -- $1,020 for a family member’s orthodontics treatment Holland labeled as “tournament sponsorship,” correlating to Count 19 of the indictment, mail fraud, for the mailing and receipt of a Bank of America statement ending March 8, 2019, containing the expense.

Lydon said Holland faces up to 20 years in federal prison, with a potential fine of up to $250,000.

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division investigated the case. Assistant South Carolina U.S. Attorneys Winston D. Holliday Jr., Alyssa Leigh Richardson and William C. Lewis, all of the Columbia office, are prosecuting the case.

In mid-September, Lydon’s office announced that a state grand jury had indicated Johnson, 49, and Holland on a total of 26 counts of wire and mail fraud, as well as conspiracy to commit both of those crimes as well as the theft of federal funds.
Johnson also faces up to 20 years in federal prison and a potential $250,000 fine.

According to the indictment, the grand jury charged Johnson with “Using public funds to finance a private lifestyle … (and) abused his position as elected solicitor to siphon money from the Fifth Judicial Circuit.” It also charged Holland with “us(ing) her position to both aid and abet her boss … and to personally siphon public funds for private use.”

The indictment alleged that, starting at some point in 2016, Johnson and Holland devised a scheme to “obtain money and property by means of materially false and fraudulent pretenses, representations and promises.” It alleged that Johnson and Holland improperly used credit cards issued to the office -- that are supposed to be used for official law-enforcement related expenses -- for personal expenses including “travel, vacations, romantic liaisons, medical expenses and double-reimbursements for military training.”

Johnson lost a chance to run for a third term when Byron Gipson, a fellow Democrat, defeated him in a primary earlier this year. Today, voters in Kershaw and Richland counties are casting ballots for either Gipson or independent candidate John Meadors, who served as deputy solicitor under Johnson’s predecessor, Barney Giese.

Gov. Henry McMaster suspended Johnson from office soon after the indictments were handed down and appointed S.C. Deputy Attorney General Heather Weiss to serve out the unexpired term until either Gipson or Meadors is elected.

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