A preliminary hearing for a State Senate and Horry County council candidate charged in connection with bribery was continued a second time Friday.
Dick Withington, 73, of Myrtle Beach, who is running for Horry County Council District 4 and State Senate District 34, was arrested March 29 and charged with inducement to file for, or withdraw from, candidacy for election after he allegedly accepted money during an undercover operation, which was prompted by an email he sent to several Horry County council men saying he would drop out of the race for “maybe $20,000,” according to law enforcement and arrest warrants.
The preliminary hearing before Judge Margie Livingston on Friday morning in Conway was continued because an Horry County police officer who was going to testify could not be there because he was called to investigate a murder.
“We anticipated the hearing to go forward, but these things do happen. Unfortunately, in this case it’s very important that Mr. Withington, who has maintained his innocence since day one, has this preliminary hearing and is allowed to defend himself and allow the voters an opportunity to see what really went on,” his attorney, Bert von Herrman said after the proceeding.
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Withington did not attend the hearing, which is designed to show probable cause in a docket of arrests, and, his attorney stressed to the court a need for the case to be heard before the June 14 election.
Livingston recognized the request for the hearing prior to the election and said the court would try to hold it before voters go to the polls.
The case was continued May 6 because the 15th Circuit Solicitor’s Office indicated it had gone before the grand jury, but it hadn’t and was put back in the court system for a preliminary hearing.
The courts have “bent over backward” for von Herrman, he said, and didn’t suspect any wrongdoing on behalf of the solicitor’s office, who he said was very fair, but he worried about how the continuances would be perceived by the public.
“It looks like we’re putting it off, but in fact we’ve fought all along to get in court. He’s maintained his innocence since the day he was arrested,” von Herrmann said.
While Withington is running for a state senate seat, the charge against him is just in connection with the county race.
In a March 20 email sent to at least one opponent in the county race, Withington said he would switch races for money.
Withington told The Sun News he sent the email to County Councilman Gary Loftus, who Withington is running against to represent District 4; and councilmen Cam Crawford and Johnny Vaught.
“Help me get a little help, maybe 20k and you win, or spend a small fortune and you lose,” the email said.
Withington said he thought an envelope he received from an undercover Horry County police officer was a “fishy” campaign contribution.
“Mr. Withington never accepted a bribe first of all. Secondly, even if he did accept a campaign donation his race that he would have accepted the campaign donation for to withdraw was for the county race. This statute [the charge] only applies to state and federal case,” von Herrman said.
Fifteenth Circuit Solicitor Jimmy Richardson agreed that the charge doesn’t seem to apply to Withington because it pertains to state or federal races and said it’s not uncommon for a charge to change shape after it has been filed.
“If there is a more appropriate charge we will pick the more appropriate charge before we send it to the grand jury, Richardson said and added he had already mentioned the issue to the prosecuting attorney.
Withington could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.
“Dick Withington would have been here today, but he is out campaigning hard, knocking on doors and advancing his position,” von Herrman said of the court proceedings.