SC mayor under criminal investigation over use of town funds

The mayor of Swansea is under investigation by the S.C. Law Enforcement Division after town council members say he misappropriated town funds.

Two members of Swansea’s town council told The State that Mayor Jerald Sanders is under a SLED investigation after he allegedly removed money from the town’s budget and directed it to his personal foundation.

SLED confirms it has an active investigation of Sanders, but the law enforcement agency declined to discuss details of the investigation.

Town Councilwoman Doris Simmons said she filed a complaint against Sanders after the council discovered last year that Sanders had moved money from the town’s general fund budget to his private foundation without council’s approval or knowledge. A police incident report says the amount transferred was $4,500.

Mike Luongo, another town council member, was surprised when Sanders told the council about the move during a May 2020 budget meeting. Sanders told his colleagues many townspeople had meant to donate money to his non-profit, the Halo Community Foundation, during the previous year’s Christmas parade, but had mistakenly written out checks to the town of Swansea instead.

“I told him, ‘Mayor, you should have got them to write another check,’” Luongo said.

The next day, Simmons was still so disturbed by the meeting, “I decided, after a few moments of silent thought, to file a report with the chief of police.”

The report was turned over to SLED, whose investigators have spent the better part of a year working on the case.

The State was unable to reach Sanders for comment on the investigation. Similar requests to the state attorney general’s office and the Lexington County solicitor’s office had also not been returned before publication.

Town council members have stayed quiet about the investigation until now, but Luongo said they have been given the go ahead to talk publicly about what they know, given the increasingly high profile of the case. Luongo said he’s been frustrated with how little access to the town’s financial records he and other council members have under Sanders’ leadership.

“They said if we want to go public, go ahead,” Luongo said.

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