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Prosecutor: Five Rivers probe likely

Fifteenth Circuit Solicitor Greg Hembree said Thursday he thinks a criminal investigation of Five Rivers Community Development Corp. is imminent, although no agency has requested that his office check to see how the nonprofit agency has spent public money.

"Quite frankly, I've been waiting on the call," Hembree said. "Any time the use of public money is questionable, there's a good chance it will lead to an investigation."

Hembree said such an investigation would have to be prompted by a request from an outside agency.

An in-depth look at some of the agency's finances by The Sun News shows a pattern of questionable spending practices at Georgetown-based Five Rivers, including: executive salaries that far exceed the state average, annual pay raises of as much as 29.5 percent, regular use of the agency's Volvo automobile for personal reasons and expense reimbursements for travel that appears to be unrelated to the nonprofit's purpose.

Hembree said Georgetown County Council, the Georgetown County Sheriff's Department and Five Rivers' board of directors are among the groups that could request a criminal investigation.

"I think it is entirely possible that [an investigation] will be referred to us," Hembree said.

Georgetown County Administrator Tommy Edwards said he is not sure county officials have enough information to request an investigation of Five Rivers.

"Not to say that an investigation is not in order, but we would need more specifics for the county to get involved," Edwards said.

Georgetown County Sheriff Lane Cribb could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Sam Livingston, chairman of Five Rivers' board of directors, said last month the board would do its own investigation. The board then gave Five Rivers' staff a unanimous vote of confidence at its meeting the following week.

It is not clear how much, if any, of the board's investigation has been completed. Livingston has declined to talk with The Sun News since the board's meeting last week.

Mark Plowden, a spokesman for the state Attorney General's office, said last month the agency would not initiate an investigation on its own but would get involved if another agency requested its help.

The S.C. Secretary of State's office started an investigation last month of possible financial wrongoing at Five Rivers.

That investigation is in its early stages, and Secretary of State Mark Hammond said Wednesday his office may refer its findings to the Internal Revenue Service for further investigation.

The IRS does not comment on specific cases, according to spokeswoman Dianne Besunder.

The secretary of state's office, which regulates nonprofits and charities, can fine a nonprofit agency or shut it down if an investigation shows financial wrongdoing.

The secretary of state would have to refer a case to the state's attorney general for criminal prosecution.

Georgetown-based Five Rivers received more than $3.8 million in grants and contributions between 1996 and 2004, according to the agency's federal tax returns and financial statements.

Nearly two-thirds of that money came from local, state and federal grants funded by taxpayers.