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SLED: No improper use of state funds in Sanford travel

Gov. Mark Sanford did not misuse taxpayer dollars on any of his trips to see his Argentine lover, South Carolina’s top law enforcement officer said Thursday.

But the quick review of Sanford’s public and personal travel documents by the State Law Enforcement Division reveals just how messy the governor’s affair had become — including a trip to New York in September 2008 where he saw his lover on the 25th and his wife on the 26th.

SLED chief Reggie Lloyd said his agency reviewed five trips:

 A June 2008 trip to Brazil and Argentina sponsored by the state Commerce Department and paid for by state tax dollars

 A September 2008 trip to New York, paid for by the Republican National Committee and Sanford’s personal credit card

 A November 2008 trip to New York, paid for in part by the Republican Governor’s Association

 A February 2009 trip to New York paid for by Sanford, in which — along with his spiritual adviser — Sanford said he met with his lover to end their affair

 Sanford’s June trip to Argentina.

The governor’s private affair caught up with him publicly when he returned and a reporter from The State newspaper met him at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

In all of those trips, Lloyd said, public dollars were not spent on anything — including meals and hotels — in which Sanford’s lover was present.

Lloyd said he knows that because that is what Sanford told him.

“I am basing it on the times he has told us he has been in contact with her,” Lloyd said at a news conference Thursday at SLED headquarters on Broad River Road. “He wasn’t under polygraph at the time, so I’m going by his word.”

Some state officials questioned the impartiality of the report by Lloyd, a Sanford appointee who reports to the Republican governor.

“Reggie Lloyd is an able chief if there ever was one, but the fact that he was appointed by Sanford and the fact that his agency was directly involved with this entire fiasco skews the way his agency may or may not handle the investigation,” state Rep. Boyd Brown, D-Fairfield, wrote in an e-mail to The State.

“The only way to get this whole thing cleared up is to ask for either a grand jury investigation or get (Attorney General Henry) McMaster’s office to appoint a joint special bipartisan prosecutor.”

A special prosecutor most likely would be one of the state’s 16 elected solicitors. Fifth Circuit Solicitor Barney Giese — who represents Richland County, including the State House — was on vacation Thursday but said through a spokeswoman that it would be inappropriate for him to comment on SLED’s review.

McMaster, who plans to run for governor in 2010, said in a written statement he has “no reason to doubt SLED’s conclusions, their professionalism, or objectivity.”

“I will not duck or abuse my constitutional responsibilities merely to satisfy those who seek a politically motivated fishing expedition,” said McMaster, also a Republican.

Lloyd, a former U.S. attorney, became the first outsider to run SLED when Sanford appointed him in November 2007. Lloyd said Thursday he is aggravated by the suggestion he could not review the governor’s travel records because of a conflict of interest.

“The governor cannot fire me whether we found something or not,” said Lloyd, who serves a six-year term and only can be removed for a specified reason. “At the end of the day, everywhere I’ve gone in my career, we do the right thing. And we’ve done that here and at times, you know, in these jobs people believe that the only way you can prove your objectivity and your fairness is to find something and charge somebody with something. Sometimes fairness means just standing up and saying there is nothing there.”

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Video | SLED: Sanford did not misuse money

State Sen. Tom Davis, the former Sanford chief of staff who was mentioned several times during the governor’s State House confession last week, attended the SLED news conference and said afterward he thinks it, in part, vindicated the governor.

Davis, R-Beaufort, said lawmakers should be cautious in their public comments as more and more join the calls for Sanford’s resignation.

“Legislators have a duty to come up and listen to the facts themselves and not get swept up in a mob mentality,” he said.

Sanford already has repaid taxpayers $3,300 for the state-sponsored Argentina trip last year. A Sanford spokesman said Thursday the governor would be willing to “reimburse any organization whatever they believe to be appropriate.”

Attempts to reach the Republican Governor’s Association and the Republican National Committee were unsuccessful.

Reach Beam at (803) 771-8405.