SC school board member goes on the attack after ethics fines questioned

Published: Apr. 4, 2014 at 8:12 PM EDT
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Charleston County School District 2 Constituent Board Trustee attempts to physically remove...
Charleston County School District 2 Constituent Board Trustee attempts to physically remove Jody Barr from a recent meeting.

MT. PLEASANT, SC (WIS) – Tonight, we're airing a four-part series into the list of the state's current and former public officials who owe fines to the State Ethics Commission. Those fines are the result of failure to file and late filing of campaign and finance forms with the commission.

Our review of that list showed 132 current and former public officials in South Carolina who owe $2,506,688.98 in unpaid ethics fines to the state. Some of the unpaid fines have lingered for more than a decade.

The currently elected public official with the highest fines in the state is Anthony Brown. Brown is a Charleston County School District 2 Constituent Board Trustee.

Records show in September 2012 the commission charged Brown with failing to file his Statement of Economic Interest forms for 2010 and 2011. Ethics officials testified they sent two certified letters to Brown's address at that time. One letter was never returned, the second letter was returned and marked "return to sender-unclaimed." The commission testified that letter was re-mailed to Brown.

In August 2013, the commission again charged and fined Brown for failing to file a Statement of Economic Interest form. This SEI was for 2012. The commission's compliance officer testified that letters sent to Brown's home were not returned. The commission re-mailed a certified letter to the Charleston County School District on Sept. 18, 2012. Brown filed his SEI two months later, but the filing shows Brown did not pay the late filing penalty.

The commission filing does not show that Brown ever contacted the Ethics Commission to address his other ethics charges. On August 15, 2013, the State Ethics Commission publicly reprimanded Brown and fined him again.

Ethics records show Brown's total debt stands at $55,300 and is unpaid as of this report.

As we worked though our investigation, we tried to contact Brown by the phone number listed on the school district's website. In a call to the number listed for Brown on March 7, a woman answered the phone and when we asked to speak to Brown, she responded "wrong number." When we contacted the district's clerk on March 7, an employee named "Trudy" told WIS she'd check on Brown's phone number and call us back with an accurate number. The district never called us back.

On March 12, Brown's board held a public meeting at Moultrie Middle School in Mt. Pleasant. We decided to use the public forum as an opportunity to question Brown about his ethics fines and his plans to pay the state back. Brown would not talk about his fines.

We walked out of the board room after questioning Brown on March 12 to return just before the meeting was scheduled to start. When we went into the room to set up our camera, Brown ordered us out, "If you want me to throw you out of here, then I'm going to throw you out," Brown said as he got out of his board chair and walked toward us. "You better go ahead—don't put me on camera, I'm not kidding," Brown said as he walked toward us. "Look, I had a long day today, just go ahead man, okay" Brown said as he grabbed our camera equipment and shoved Barr into the door and against the wall.

Our crew called 911 and filed an assault complaint against Brown, but chose not to press charges.

Brown would not answer questions about his fines or whether he intends to pay them.

Be sure to tune in starting at 5 p.m. for Jody's full report.

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