Just days after being further indicted by the South Carolina State Grand Jury, former Fifth Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson pleaded guilty in federal court to wire fraud charges. Both state and federal charges stem from separate investigations into allegations that Johnson and his communications director, Nicole Holland, used funds allocated to the solicitor’s office for their own purposes.
A sentencing hearing is scheduled for June 4.
Tuesday, Johnson pleaded guilty in federal court to charges connected to an allegation that he used solicitor’s office funds to cover personal and non-office-related expenses, according to a press release issued by the U.S. South Carolina District Attorney’s Office late that afternoon. The press release noted that in addition to receiving federal funds, the Fifth Circuit Solicitor’s Office is funded by the two counties it serves, Kershaw and Richland. It went on to specifically point out that Kershaw County pays the office-related credit card bills for select solicitor’s office employees.
According to the press release, Johnson was issued solicitor’s office credit cards reading “DAN JOHNSON, Fifth Circuit Sol Office.” South Carolina U.S. Attorney Sherri Lydon’s office said Johnson made a series of personal and non-office-related purchases, starting no later than 2016. In pleading guilty to the scheme, Johnson acknowledged that a November 2016 payment by Kershaw County covered personal expenses on the October 2016 credit card statement.
Those expenses included:
• $208.76 on Sept. 7, 2016, at the Elara by Hilton Grand Vacations in Las Vegas;
• $911.48, also on Sept. 7, 2016, at the Doubletree Magic Mile Hotel in Chicago;
• $685.07 on Oct. 1, 2016, to Panama-based Copa Airlines; and
• $137.22 on Oct. 5, 2016, at the Hilton Columbia Center in Columbia.
However, Lydon said in the press release that the total loss attributed to Johnson is more than $44,000.
Johnson faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison and a potential fine of up to $250,000.
“Today’s plea will go a long way in restoring the public’s confidence in our justice system. The law comes in one size, and one size fits all. It fits the rich man and the poor man. If fits the citizen and the elected official. It fits the prosecuted and the prosecutor, and it certainly fits Dan Johnson,” Lydon said in the press release. “To the fine men and women of the Fifth Circuit Solicitor’s Office and to (new) Solicitor (Byron) Gipson, we know you welcome this day, as you move forward, out from under the cloud of Dan Johnson’s conduct. We look forward to continuing to partner with you to ensure the fair and impartial administration of justice and to protect the citizens of South Carolina. I would also like to express my appreciation to the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office, with whom we worked closely to bring about justice today.”
In September 2018, a federal grand jury originally indicted Johnson and Holland on 26 counts of wire and mail fraud, conspiracy to commit both and the theft of federal funds. It was unclear from Tuesday’s press release whether Johnson was only pleading guilty to a single count or multiple counts of wire fraud, or whether he still faces conspiracy and theft of federal funds charges.
In a press release at that time, Lydon said Johnson and Holland’s then-alleged scheme involved using solicitor’s office funds to pay for “travel, vacations, romantic liaisons, medical expenses and double-reimbursements for military training.”
Immediately following the federal indictments, S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster suspended Johnson from office.
In November, Holland pleaded guilty in federal court to one count each of wire and mail fraud. A sentencing hearing for Holland scheduled for Tuesday has been rescheduled for March 6.
Meanwhile, a state grand jury also indicted Johnson and Holland on various charges. It charged Holland with embezzlement of public funds. It also charged Johnson with embezzlement of public funds as well as misconduct in office.
On Jan. 21, the state grand jury handed superseding indictments that added an additional charge against Johnson for obtaining property by false pretenses, and one count each of forgery and perjury against Holland.