IRMO, SC (WIS) - An annual festival in Irmo is under investigation by the Richland County Sheriff's Department.
Sgt. Kevin Lawrence said the department currently is investigating the Irmo Okra Strut at the request of Mayor Hardy King. King said there are discrepancies over the number of tickets sold and that affects how vendors are paid.
We have learned that vendors are possibly being overpaid by tens of thousands of dollars.
King said 2014's festival lost about $34,000 and it would've lost even more had the town not supported the festival with $21,000 in funding. He said he's been doing math for weeks and weeks, and he found out that the numbers don't add up.
"There were 166,854 tickets that were sold at the Okra Strut, yet we had paid vendors based on 204,000 tickets behind sold at the Okra Strut," Hardy said.
King said that means the festival apparently miscalculated the number of tickets that were sold and as a result likely paid food and game vendors close to $20,000 more than they should have.
"If you're going to run a festival and use tickets, then you gotta count your dang tickets," King said.
But King said tickets weren't being counted. Instead, King said they were being put in bags and weighed on a scale -- a scale investigators have already determined to be inaccurate.
"You know, we're struggling to have an efficient Okra Strut, and yet we're paying vendors, as you mentioned, a lot of the may be out of town, $30,000 extra," said King. "Yeah, that upsets me very much."
Mayor King doesn't believe 2014 was the first year the strut had these problems.
"This did not happen this year," King said. "This something that's been going on probably for a while."
But both King and Okra Strut Commission Chairman Kirk Luther say it's a problem that needs to be fixed with a new way of doing things without the broken scale.
"We'll give it to y'all and you can weigh packages on it or something," Luther joked. "UPS might want it. I don't know."
It is a criminal investigation, but Luther doesn't think there was a criminal element just sloppy bookkeeping, if anything.
Mayor King, on the other hand, inferred that vendors might be knowingly taking more money than they've earned. But he said it'd be hard to prove criminal intent.
Both King and Luther say the Okra Strut will go on despite the setback.
The Richland County Sheriff's Department could not comment since the investigation is ongoing.