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State ethics panel eyes former Surfside Beach administrator Booth

The solicitor's office has turned over information to the State Ethics Commission about whether former Surfside Beach administrator Ed Booth violated state ethics law.

Herb Hayden, the executive director of the State Ethics Commission, said the office is "reviewing what [the solicitor's office] sent us to see whether or not there are any potential violations."

There have been accusations that Booth passed inside information to a company that was bidding for restaurant space on the town-owned pier. Booth began working with television personality Cecil Chandler's restaurant company - called Surfside Beach Cafe at the Pier LLC - shortly after he left the administrator's job in May.

Booth could not be reached for comment, but he said previously that his work with Chandler was not a conflict of interest because when he was town administrator he was not involved with developing the town's bid criteria.

Jimmy Richardson, deputy solicitor, said the 15th Circuit Solicitor's office was asked by an attorney for Surfside Beach to "look into some issues they were having" with Booth's involvement in the pier restaurant bidding.

He said the office conducted "a series of interviews" with different people, but "everything that we were finding appeared to be of an ethical sort of issue," so the file was passed along to the ethics commission for its review.

Richardson said he believed that file, which he said was "more than a couple pages," was passed on to the commission around June 30.

Hayden said someone at the ethics commission is reviewing the information, but how long that review takes depends on what is found.

"If there's nothing there, it shouldn't take very long at all," he said. "If we find there are areas that need additional investigation, it could take several weeks."

If the commission finds probable cause to believe that ethics laws have been violated, it can file a verified complaint and begin a formal investigation, according to the state law creating the State Ethics Commission.

At the end of that formal investigation, the commission has to decide whether probable cause exists to believe that the law has been violated. If it decides that probable cause exists, it sets a date for a hearing before three of its commissioners.

No more than 60 days after the hearing is concluded, the commission has to issue a written decision stating its conclusion from the hearing. If it has determined that the law has been violated, it can recommend penalties to either the governor or the administrative department responsible for the employee who violated the law.

Hayden also said criminal charges could be filed for breaking state ethics laws. If that is the case, the file would be sent back to the solicitor's office.

Hayden said there are several ways the investigation could go, "depending on the outcome of our review."

Richardson said if the commission has any questions about the file it sent, someone would contact the solicitor's office.

But, "I haven't heard anything from anybody up there," he said.