AG investigating affair, misconduct allegations involving SCHP interim director

Published: Aug. 24, 2011 at 3:31 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 25, 2011 at 2:23 AM EDT
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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The state Attorney General's office is conducting interviews into an investigation into Kenny Lancaster, the interim director of the South Carolina Highway Patrol. The investigation started August 8, after a woman filed a formal complaint and sworn affidavit with the patrol's Office of Professional Responsibility; the office that investigates complaints against troopers.

The complaint was filed August 5, by Ali Rowell of Beaufort. Rowell's sworn affidavit outlines her version of an affair with Lancaster, as well as a "cash-only" photography business the complaint alleges Lancaster ran while on duty. Rowell also alleges Lancaster used his patrol car inappropriately to run the photography business.

The patrol's OPR turned the case over to State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel. Keel told WIS he turned the case over to the state's Attorney General's office days later, citing a conflict with his relationship with Lancaster.

Attorney General special investigator Pete Logan and a second, unidentified investigator met with Rowell at her Beaufort home for nearly two and a half hours August 18, questioning her about the affair and the photography business. Rowell said Logan wanted "specific details and dates" to corroborate her claims. The AG's investigators also met with Rowell's husband, Gene, who is a former State Trooper who worked under Lancaster while Lancaster was stationed as a supervisor in Beaufort. Logan interviewed Mr. Rowell for more than an hour and a half in the Beaufort Chick-Fil-A parking lot last Thursday.

Rowell's affidavit shows that she met Lancaster along Highway 278 in Beaufort County in the Summer of 1992 after Lancaster initiated a traffic stop "without probable cause," according to the affidavit. Lancaster and Rowell discussed her photography business, which led to the pair developing a "professional relationship."

Within a couple of hours of the stop, Rowell said Lancaster showed up to her Beaufort apartment in his uniform and patrol car. "I did find it sort of unusual that he came to my apartment, but we talked about the photography business and what he was doing and before he left, he kissed me good bye," Rowell told WIS, "I did find that a little odd."

Interim Director Kenny Lancaster would not comment on the allegations or the AG's investigation when WIS contacted him by phone Monday. Lancaster said he didn't know what was alleged in the Rowell complaint, and then hung up the phone. Calls to Lancaster's cell phone were not returned.

Rowell said she and Lancaster discussed a partnership that would allow them to photograph golfers at the Island West Golf Course in Bluffton, then sell the photographs back to golfers as souvenirs. Before Lancaster left Rowell's home, "he reached in and kissed me," Rowell said. "I noticed his wedding ring, and at the time I was a single woman, smitten by the fact that a very good looking Trooper was attracted to me," Rowell told WIS.

The affidavit states that "Highway Patrol vehicles were used to run film from the development room on Hilton Head to the golf course in violation of SCHP policies." The photography business was set up where Rowell would photograph the golf teams as they tee'd off, then handed the 35mm film off to Lancaster, who would run the film to a developer, which was a 50 mile round trip, according to Rowell. Lancaster would use his "dark gray Ford Mustang," patrol car, according to the affidavit, and often worked the business while on duty, according to Rowell.  "I didn't know a lot about the Highway Patrol, I didn't think about that being a problem, or unethical. I never even thought about the cars at the time, I just thought that they could do that," Rowell said.

"An improper personal relationship developed between Trooper Lancaster and me during this time," Rowell wrote in her affidavit. "He spent many nights while on duty at my apartment in Beaufort, we conducted an adulterous liaison at his house, while his wife was away at work," Rowell wrote. The affair was often carried out in Lancaster's patrol car, according to Rowell.

Rowell told investigators that during the affair, "We ate lunch together daily…went out to dinner together, and I would go to court with him and ride around with him often."

After the affair had carried on for several months, Rowell said Lancaster "devised a plan" to set her up with a fellow Trooper, Lance Corporal Gene Rowell. The Trooper and Lancaster were "good friends," according to Rowell. The pair kept the "set up" a secret from Gene Rowell. The "set up" would allow Ali Rowell and Lancaster a way to "go out socially together while we carried on our affair," according to the affidavit. "He assured me I would not like Gene and we would all have a good time," Rowell told investigators.

"We just thought that--and both of us thought that it would be fun, that if we had somebody we could just go with, not ever realizing that person would eventually become my husband," Rowell told WIS.

Rowell said that she and Gene "fell in love," and the pair married in October 1993. Before the marriage, Rowell said she told Lancaster that she and Gene were developing a serious relationship, which "angered Lancaster," Rowell told WIS. Rowell said Lancaster believed he was a "fast tracker," and would one day become the Colonel of the Highway Patrol. "He assured me he would take Gene up the ranks with him so we (Lancaster and Ali Rowell) could be together," Rowell wrote in her affidavit.

After Rowell became pregnant with her first child in the fall of 1996, "circumstances soon thereafter appeared to change," between Lancaster and Ali Rowell. "After this, he became angry and I noticed his demeanor toward Gene change," Rowell's affidavit stated. The alleged change in Lancaster's behavior would soon be noticed by Gene Rowell, according to his wife.

"Lancaster harassed Gene every chance he got thereafter," according to Ali Rowell. ""They fought. He and I fought, even. He would leave him (Gene Rowell) as the single man in Beaufort County on duty. They would mess with his vacation time, over a course of the next 6 to 7 years of that, it just tumbled," Rowell said. "Kenny had a lot of power and it was as if he wanted to make his life miserable."

"Gene was written up often for minor offenses," according to the affidavit, "Gene began to wear down from being assigned to permanent nights and to drink heavily." Rowell said. The Trooper eventually requested counseling and attended "several sessions," in Charleston.

Rowell would resign from the patrol in 1999. He returned in 2000.

The patrol fired Rowell in April 2008 after he "broke" and "used profanity in response to a request from Sergeant Chuck Wise for him to operate a patrol vehicle while intoxicated," according to Rowell. Wise wanted Trooper Rowell to deliver a videotape of "the arrest of a prominent Columbia politician." Wise's request came on Rowell's day off, while he was coordinating a surprise birthday party for his wife.

"I am of the opinion and personal belief that Colonel Lancaster used his authority to destroy my husband's career to exact jealous revenge against myself and him," Rowell wrote in her affidavit. The Rowell's also think Lancaster has used his position to prevent Rowell from getting another job in law enforcement.

Ali Rowell told investigators that she was willing to provide witnesses and take a polygraph to confirm her allegations. "I'm sitting here telling you this and giving up what could be my reputation because it's destroyed my husband, totally," Rowell told WIS.

In May, the Rowells hired Orangeburg private investigation firm, M and M Investigations. Investigator Danny McDaniel spent the past three and a half months piecing together evidence to prove Rowell's allegations. McDaniel confirmed to WIS that he is under contract with Rowell, "but since this case is open and active, I cannot discuss any particulars," McDaniel said.

McDaniel confirmed to WIS that his firm was under contract with another Trooper, Ken Branham, investigating allegations of "infidelity" between his wife and interim director Kenny Lancaster. McDaniel would not comment on the details of his investigation.

Branham is a Sergeant on the patrol and is married to Shannon Branham, a State Law Enforcement agent. Agent Branham was assigned as head of Governor Nikki Haley's security detail until SLED Chief Mark Keel removed her in July. Keel would not give his specific reasons for removing Branham from the security detail.

Keel admitted that he received an anonymous letter at his home, detailing the alleged affair between Branham and Lancaster. The letter came about a week before Keel removed Branham. Keel would not say whether SLED investigated the allegations, "I'm not going to comment on a personnel matter," Keel told WIS.

WIS tried contacting SLED agent Shannon Branham on her cell phone and left messages at the SLED offices for her concerning this story. Those calls were not returned.

Sources close to the investigation tell WIS that approximately 100 calls were logged between Lancaster and Shannon Branham's cell phones since April 1, 2011. WIS filed Freedom of Information Act requests with SLED and the Highway Patrol for Lancaster and Branham's cell phone records, as well as text messaging records between the pair since April 1, 2011. We've also asked the Highway Patrol for a copy of all complaint letters sent to the Office of Professional Responsibility relating to Lancaster, since Jan. 1, 2011.

As of this report, the highway patrol has not responded to our FOIA request. They've asked us to pay a fee for the records and we are currently in the process of retrieving the records. SLED has not given WIS a timeline on when their documents will be released. A response from the agency is due to us by August 29, 2011.

The AG's office does not have a timeline on when their investigation will be finished.

You can count on WIS to continue to follow this story.

Copyright 2011 WIS. All rights reserved.