COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - A trip to a luxurious resort in the Galapagos Islands, 11 cases of beer on Hilton Head, and flights to destinations across the globe – all are purchases made by either Solicitor Dan Johnson or his staff at the Fifth Circuit Solicitor's Office according to thousands of documents now public online for anyone to examine.
A group of former journalists, known as Protecting Public Access to Public Records, has begun the process of posting 30,000 documents online, including audits, budgets, bank records, credit card statements, accounting records, check requests, and receipts.
"PAPR is dedicated to shining a light on the actions of South Carolina public officials and agencies," the watchdogs write on their website.
The release of documents has already made the Fifth Circuit Solicitor's Office the target of a State Law Enforcement Division.
"This Office has reviewed public reports of expenditures by the Fifth Circuit Solicitor's Office that raise questions as to their legitimacy," Chief Deputy Attorney General W. Jeffrey Young wrote in a little to SLED Chief Mark Keel.
Of the documents WIS has reviewed so far, a number of questionable and curious expenditures stood out. Many of the purchases were for foreign travel, some were for elaborate parties and cocktail accoutrements, and others were for luxury items.
One document shows Solicitor Johnson spent $912 on a hotel in the Galapagos Islands around this time last year. A promotional video for the hotel – Golden Bay Hotel & Spa – shows a hotel beside azure water, frolicking sea lions and turtles, and plush rooms. No explanation is given about why Johnson made that purchase, and that wasn't the only exotic hotel on the list of expenses.
Another document shows that one of the solicitor's employees, Nicole Holland, seemed to buy about ten packs of beer on Hilton Head Island back in September 2014.
Those purchases were just two of dozens we flagged.
"I don't have anything to hide. Right? I mean, I'm not going to play 'I got ya' as we go down. I'm going to go through, look at everything, and I'm here," Johnson said.
We caught up with the solicitor in an impromptu interview Wednesday evening. Johnson answered several questions as he walked to his car after a reelection fundraiser at Tin Roof in Columbia's Vista. He told us that he's not worried and that he cooperated by releasing the documents to PAPR in the first place.
"Every single document that we have, financially, I released. Every one. So that's seven years' worth of everything that we do. I have nothing to hide.
And I gave them everything. Most people would go and fight over this document and 'I'm not going to give that up.' We're not going to do that. I gave them everything," he said.
Johnson said if any mistakes were made, he'll make them right.
Solicitor Johnson, who's been in his role since 2010, is seeking re-election this year.