COLUMBIA (AP) — South Carolina’s top prosecutor has dropped a probe into allegations that the chair of the agency that invests public workers’ pension money benefited from an investment in forestland.
In a letter dated Oct. 8, Deputy Attorney General Allen Myrick said state prosecutors were declining to pursue the matter further, but did not say exactly why.
More than a year ago, state Treasurer Curtis Loftis called for an investigation into allegations that Reynolds Williams, chairman of the Retirement System Investment Commission, had profited from his law firm’s work on a forestland investment deal made with the commission. Loftis’ office said Williams’ firm made about $150,000 in fees from the deal.
Williams recused himself from the vote on the American Timberlands deal, saying he disclosed his firm’s relationship and took a “hands-off attitude” on the matter.
Loftis asked Attorney General Alan Wilson to investigate, saying the fund that manages a portfolio of about $27 billion needed to be protected. Loftis wanted Williams to step aside amid the investigation, but the commission refused in July 2012 to remove Williams as chairman. Williams was recently reappointed for another two-year term.
Wilson forwarded Loftis’ complaint to the State Law Enforcement Division and the State Ethics Commission. The letter marks the end of any law enforcement probe, and officials at the State Ethics Commission did not immediately return messages seeking the status of their investigation.
On Wednesday, one of Williams’ attorneys said the chairman was pleased.
“I’m pleased that the AG’s office dismissed these baseless, politically fueled allegations,” attorney Robert Goings said. “Loftis operates by threats and personal vendetta, not by the truth.”
Loftis, the only elected official on the commission’s board, is also its only member without a financial background. He has had a contentious relationship with his colleagues, particularly Williams, since taking office in 2011. But Loftis has said that his request has nothing to do with personality issues.
Loftis has repeatedly argued that the commission doesn’t get enough of a return on its investments and that its staff is paid too much, asking lawmakers to review the agency’s bonus program after 14 employees received a combined $1.4 million in bonuses for the portfolio’s performance.
After the commission voted against removing Williams as chairman last year, Loftis threatened to stop writing checks on investment contracts, saying that, if he’s not comfortable knowing what’s in a contract, he won’t send the money. That complaint led earlier this year to an unprecedented lawsuit before the Supreme Court, which ultimately said it didn’t need to rule because Loftis went ahead and signed the $11.7 million check.
The board censured Loftis in February for what it called “false, misleading and deceitful rhetoric,” which the treasurer called a badge of honor. Earlier this month, the commission’s chief operating officer announced his resignation, saying he was leaving because of bullying from Loftis.
On Wednesday, Loftis’ spokesman said the treasurer was acting purely in the interest of safeguarding the state’s investments in asking that state authorities investigate Williams.
“The treasurer did his job by raising the red flag when he saw a direct conflict of interest resulting in $150,000 being paid to the chairman’s personal business interest,” Mark Boone said. “The treasurer will continue to make sure that all commission transactions receive the transparency and accountability that they deserve.”