Political candidate Richard “Dick” Withington’s case of alleged inducement will go to a jury, a judge ruled Tuesday.
Withington, who is running for Horry County Council District 4 against incumbent Gary Loftus as well as State Senate District 34, is charged with unlawful inducement to file for or withdraw from candidacy related to the county council race.
Inducement refers to “an attempt or offer to accept, either directly or indirectly, money, a loan of money or any other thing of value... to induce a person to file or withdraw as a candidate for any state or federal elected office,” according to South Carolina Code law 7-25-200.
Judge Margie Livingston made the ruling after a 20-minute pretrial hearing Tuesday in Myrtle Beach.
Horry County Police Detective Ryan Seipt testified that when he contacted Withington on behalf of Horry County Councilman Gary Loftus, Withington agreed to accept $5,000 as a payment to drop out of the county race.
The two met at an undisclosed location in Horry County at 12:20 p.m. March 29.
He was Mirandized and didn’t answer any questions.
Det. Ryan Seipt
“I went undercover and he did accept $5,000 in an envelope as one of the victim’s portions of the payments to drop out of the race,” Seipt said. “I then mentioned another victim’s name, that I would represent him too, to give him more of the money. He accepted the money and was then detained and transported to J. Reuben Long. He was Mirandized and didn’t answer any questions.”
Withington’s case rested on whether or not the statute concerning inducement included county and municipal offices. The statute refers only to candidates running for state and federal office, and his attorney, Bert von Herrmann, said the statute shouldn’t apply.
“In this particular case, the general assembly was very specific in state and federal,” von Herrmann said. “They could have included municipalities; they could have included county, cities, county races, anything they wanted to. They didn’t. They said state and federal.”
I don’t think our legislature intended to make it illegal to accept a bribe and run for governor, but it’s OK to take money and run for municipal office.
Assistant Solicitor Keith Powell
Von Herrmann said that there was no indication that Withington broke the law.
“He filed for the senate race and was looking for endorsements,” he said. “Every political person who is a candidate for office seeks support, endorsements.”
Horry County Assistant Solicitor Keith Powell said the state believes the term “state” includes all governing bodies under the state, and that the law is applicable.
“I believe the word state includes state offices, municipal offices, and county offices; everything in the state,” he said. “I do agree that we’re talking about legislative intent, but I don’t think our legislature intended to make it illegal to accept a bribe and run for governor, but it’s OK to take money and run for municipal office.”
In an email dated March 20 that was sent to Horry County councilmen Gary Loftus, Cam Crawford, Johnny Vaught, and Council Chairman Mark Lazarus, Withington said he would switch to the senate race for $20,000.
The email was sent the day before Withington entered the senate race, according to documents.
At this point we go forward with what the court ruled and prepare for trial.
Attorney Bert von Herrmann
“In order for me to switch to Senate 34, which I am OK with, I will need immediate substantial donations, offers of further support and endorsements,” Withington wrote in the email. “If this should occur in the next few days, I can change my filing, and even endorse (redacted), if the facts should so warrant.”
Withington wrote that the proposal was “just an idea” while planning his campaign.
Von Herrmann said after the trial that the decision “meant nothing.”
“We certainly respect it,” he said. “They have bent over backwards to make sure he has his day in court. At this point we go forward with what the court ruled and prepare for trial.”
The primary election is set for Tuesday.
Christian Boschult, 843-626-0218, @CBOSCH192