Attorney General reviewing forgery allegations in Carolina Forest race

dwren@thesunnews.com June 2, 2012 

— The S.C. Attorney General’s office is reviewing documents filed in the race for State House District 56 in the wake of forgery allegations in a campaign involving Republican candidates Dennis DiSabato and Mike Ryhal.

The allegations center on the Statement of Intention of Candidacy, or SIC, form DiSabato filed to officially enter the race for the state legislature. Three different versions of that form have been filed at various state and local offices. A determination of which form is the legitimate one could have a bearing on whether DiSabato filed his candidacy paperwork properly and should have been certified by the S.C. Republican Party for next week’s primary ballot.

DiSabato says the form showing he took the proper steps in filing his paperwork is authentic. Ryhal says a form showing DiSabato should have been disqualified is authentic. Both men say they have no idea who created the forms each considers to be fraudulent.

“This office has received information relating to this matter, and it is under review,” said Mark Plowden, a spokesman for state Attorney General Alan Wilson. “I will not be able to comment beyond that.”

Ryhal – who planned to challenge DiSabato for the district that stretches from Carolina Forest to S.C. 9 – was disqualified by the state Republican party and his name was removed from the primary ballot because party officials said Ryhal failed to properly file a Statement of Economic Interests form, which details a candidate’s income, business dealings and potential conflicts of interest.

The Republican party has certified all non-incumbent candidates who either filed their economic interests form online before filing to run for office or presented the form to their local party officials at the same time they filed to run for office. If – like Ryhal – a candidate filed his or her SIC before the economic interests form, that candidate was disqualified and dropped from the ballot.

The documents backing DiSabato’s certification are being reviewed because one version of his SIC appears to show he did not file his economic interests form on time.

That version, filed at the Horry County GOP office, shows DiSabato filed his SIC at 10 a.m. on March 30 – 55 minutes before filing his economic interests form online with the S.C. Ethics Commission. If that version is legitimate, it would mean DiSabato filed his economic interests form late and should have been disqualified under the state GOP’s rules.

Another version, which is on file with the S.C. Republican Party, shows DiSabato filed his SIC at 11 a.m. on March 30 – 5 minutes after filing his economic interests form online. If that version is legitimate, DiSabato’s certification by state party officials would have been proper.

A third version of DiSabato’s SIC – this one filed with Horry County’s Registration and Elections Office – does not state when the form was received, according to office Director Sandy Martin.

Johnnie Bellamy, chairman of the Horry County GOP, is supposed to record the time and put her signature on each SIC when the forms are submitted by local candidates. Bellamy did not include that information on the copy of DiSabato’s SIC form that was sent to the local elections office, according to Martin.

All of the documents are exactly the same except for the section where Bellamy was supposed to record the time it was received and affix her signature.

Bellamy told The Sun News last week that DiSabato filed his SIC with her at 11 a.m. on March 30. She declined to answer further questions during a telephone interview and did not respond to an e-mail seeking further information. Bellamy later declined to speak on the record about the matter.

Ryhal said he does not think the document showing 11 a.m. is legitimate.

Following his disqualification last month, Ryhal said he visited the Horry County GOP office “to understand how my opponent was placed on the ballot.” During that visit, Ryhal said Bellamy gave him a copy of DiSabato’s SIC filing showing the 10 a.m. receipt time.

Based on that document, Ryhal filed a protest of DiSabato’s certification with the state GOP on May 7.

That protest was denied one day later because – according to Matt Moore, the party’s executive director – the DiSabato SIC filed with the S.C. Republican Party in Columbia showed an 11 a.m. receipt time, meaning DiSabato had filed his economic interests form first.

Ryhal returned to Bellamy’s office a second time on May 10 and asked to look again at DiSabato’s SIC filing.

“I said, ‘Johnnie, would you mind pulling that [DiSabato’s SIC] out of the file again?’ and she said, ‘Sure’,” Ryhal said, adding that Bellamy once again showed him the copy with a 10 a.m. receipt time. Ryhal said Bellamy then agreed to sign a statement that the document with the 10 a.m. receipt time was the original document she received from DiSabato.

Ryhal said he then showed Bellamy the e-mail he had received from the state GOP claiming the filing had an 11 a.m. receipt time.

“She said, ‘I don’t know where that came from and I have to go’,” Ryhal said. “The she left the office.”

Also, in a May 3 voice mail message that Bellamy left on Ryhal’s telephone, Bellamy confirmed the filing time on DiSabato’s SIC was 10 a.m.

“[DiSabato’s] papers were filed at 10 and I found out just now that his SEI was time-stamped at 10:54 [sic], so he missed the cut-off,” Bellamy said in the voice mail message.

Larry Richardson, who was a state GOP executive committee member at the time candidacy papers were being filed on March 30, said he arrived at the county headquarters at 10:15 a.m. that day and DiSabato had already filed his paperwork and left the building. Richardson, who stayed at the county headquarters until 1 p.m. on March 30, has resigned from the executive committee because he is a candidate for State House District 68.

“I’m very upset about this,” Richardson said, referring to DiSabato’s filing. “It clearly shows foul play at the state GOP to get one of their favorite sons on the ballot.”

Moore said he is satisfied the copy his office has – showing an 11 a.m. receipt time – is the legitimate document.

“The documents were signed by the chairwoman [Bellamy] and are the official record, despite subsequent documents,” Moore said, adding that the party’s executive committee “fully investigated Mr. DiSabato’s Statement of Intention of Candidacy on May 16 and agreed that he should be certified.”

DiSabato told The Sun News he does not know what time he filed his candidacy papers, but he believes the 11 a.m. version is authentic and the 10 a.m. version is a forgery. He said Bellamy’s signature on the 10 a.m. document does not appear to match her signature on other SIC forms she signed.

DiSabato said the copy of his SIC filing that Bellamy gave to him did not have any time notated on it, matching the blank version that was sent to the county elections office.

“I can’t speculate on where that [10 a.m.] document came from,” DiSabato said. “I don’t believe Mike did it, but I can’t say where it came from.”

Ryhal said he does not know who created the filing showing a time receipt of 11 a.m. Ryhal is not blaming his opponent, but he thinks a state Supreme Court ruling on May 3 was the impetus behind what he terms a falsified document. That ruling is what led the state GOP to adopt its rules for who could – and could not – appear on next week’s ballots.

Ryhal said he thinks the copy of DiSabato’s filing that was sent to the state GOP was blank when it was initially received and the 11 a.m. receipt time was added later.

When the initial SIC filing was sent to Columbia in early April, “nobody cared because nothing had happened,” Ryhal said.

“Then, we get a May 3 [Supreme Court] ruling and what time those forms were completed and the SEIs were filed becomes absolutely critical,” he said. “They realized they didn’t have anybody [running as a Republican] in Seat 56 in Horry County. That’s pretty sloppy. Do you know how embarrassing that would have been for the GOP? So they went through those files and they found a way to get Dennis on [the ballot].”

Contact DAVID WREN at 626-0281

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