ABC15 Investigates: Surfside Beach councilman facing ethics charges again


    (WPDE)

    A Surfside Beach councilman will appear before the South Carolina State Ethics Commission on several charges stemming from his 2016 election campaign, according to documents obtained by ABC15.

    Randle Stevens is facing six charges related to campaign expenses and donations, based on a complaint filed by citizen Arnold Garguilo.

    The charges include the following: one count of failure to file pre-election campaign disclosure report, two counts of failure to disclose expenditure on campaign disclosure report, two counts of failure to disclose contribution information on campaign disclosure report, and one count of acceptance of anonymous contributions.

    The commission accused Stevens of failing to file a timely pre-election campaign disclosure report, which had a deadline of March 21, 2016, and failing to disclose $85 in campaign expenses, failing to disclose the full name, address, and contribution amount for a contribution on Feb. 10 and another on April 7.

    He's also accused of accepting an anonymous contribution of truck wrap signage on April 5.

    Stevens was notified of the original hearing, which was supposed to happen in July, on May 30, 2018.

    The hearing is now scheduled for Thursday.

    The complaint

    Garguilo filed his 70-page complaint in Richland County on Sept. 19, 2016. Most of the accusations have since been thrown out.

    In it, Garguilo accused Stevens of failing to disclose numerous campaign contributions from donors, including mailers, truck wraps, campaign signs, and a luncheon for 50 business owners.

    He said Stevens, who joined the Surfside Beach Town Council in 2012, used his seat to "intimidate and bully his way into not paying a business license fee for his real estate broker business that he has been running [...] since 1983."

    Garguilo also accused Stevens of threatening to sue the town over a sign attached to his truck supporting another candidate, solicited an absentee vote from his daughter, who Garguilo said lived in Columbia, and contacted the opposing attorney in a pending lawsuit against the town.

    Lastly, he said Stevens used made-up names when he "designed, printed, and copied hate mailings against for other candidates running for a spot on Town Council," and posted "derogatory" messages on Stevens' personal Facebook page against the four candidates.

    Garguilo attached 65 pages of newspaper clippings, copies of disclosure reports, photos, and social media screen shots to support his arguments.

    The attachments included a disclosure report from February 2016 that showed zero contributions or expenses to Stevens' re-election campaign, a town ordinance forbidding parking vehicles used for advertising purposes on town streets and photos of Stevens' truck, and numerous copies of fliers supporting Stevens or opposing other candidates.

    One of the supporting documents in the complaint filed against Stevens, showing a flyer referring to then-mayor Doug Samples and candidates who aligned with him (WPDE).

    The response

    Less than two months after the complaint was filed, Stevens furiously responded in a letter addressed to the Executive Director of the South Carolina Ethics Commission.

    In a letter dated Oct. 29, 2016, Stevens said, "It appears that Mr. Garguillo [sic] has malice towards me and will go to any lengths [to] fabricate lies and information to damage my reputation as an elected official and [as] a citizen."

    Stevens accused Garguilo, whose name he misspelled, of following Stevens around Surfside Beach in a golf cart and yelling at Stevens, who was campaigning door-to-door as the then-candidate.

    Stevens said that incident resulted in the police intervening.

    He also responded to all six complaints made against him, repeatedly calling Garguilo a "pathological liar" and using fabrication as his main defense for some counts.

    In reference to accusations of mailers being sent out, Stevens said, "I had nothing to do with these mailers. They were sent out by a Committee that was unknown to me."

    He said the truck wrap and accompanying signage was left at his home while he was away, and didn't know the donor.

    In reference to the luncheon for business leaders, Stevens said he was doing his duty as an elected official by sharing new changes in the law and a new mobile app.

    Stevens said a business license was not necessary, as he has only maintained, but not used, his license as a real estate broker.

    Stevens said his daughter's permanent residence is Surfside Beach and she has legally voted absentee for many candidates at the state and national level.

    He called his Facebook posts protected speech under the First Amendment.

    He said he designed and printed fliers on his own and for no cost, and re-used campaign signs.

    "Mr. Garguillo [...] with reckless and wanton disregard to the truth, [did] try to damage my reputation, politically and as a citizen, cause mental anguish and distress to my family," he said.

    ABC15 Investigates reached out to Garguilo for comment on his complaint and Stevens' response, but was told "no comment."

    ABC15 Investigates also reached out to Stevens, who pointed to the fact that most of the more serious accusations no longer stand, but said he couldn't comment on the ongoing case.

    Stevens also previously faced ethics charges from his 2012 campaign, which were dropped one year later.

    ABC15 Investigates is committed to holding the powerful accountable and looking into issues that matter to you. Click here to learn more about our team and read our other stories.

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