South Carolina

Just-discovered laptop could be evidence in former solicitor’s upcoming trial

John Monk

A laptop computer, just discovered at the 5th Circuit solicitor’s office, could contain evidence relevant to the upcoming federal corruption trial of former Solicitor Dan Johnson.

The discovery of the laptop and the time it will take for prosecutors and Johnson’s lawyer to examine its contents were cited Tuesday as a reason to delay Johnson’s trial until March 21.

Johnson had been scheduled to stand trial in February at Columbia’s U.S. Courthouse on charges that he spent tens of thousands of dollars of public money on himself.

But after listening Tuesday to a prosecutor and Johnson’s lawyer, John Rakowsky, talk about the large amount of potential evidence that still had to be examined, U.S. Judge Cameron McGowan Currie delayed the starting date of the 48-year-old attorney’s trial until March 21.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Winston Holliday told Currie that more time is needed to examine the contents of the newly discovered computer. But, he added, “It’s possible there is not much on it.”

While the FBI had made available a small room in its high-security compound outside Columbia for lawyers to go through the electronic evidence, the process — including traveling to and getting inside the building — is slow, defense attorney Rakowsky said.

“And, now, they have more stuff coming,” Rakowsky said. “There’s a vast array of emails.”

Johnson, who was defeated in his bid for a third four-year term in June’s Democratic primary, initially was charged with fraud in mid-September. A federal grand jury indicted Johnson and a former top aide on 26 charges connected to their alleged misuse of solicitor’s office credit cards, involving the theft of more than $55,000 in taxpayer money.

In November, onetime Johnson aide Nicole Holland, the former bookkeeper and communications director in the solicitor’s office, entered a guilty plea to reduced charges and agreed to testify against Johnson.

In November, new federal charges accused Johnson of erasing evidence from an iPad and iPhone, and illegally getting $7,122 worth of reimbursements from both the solicitor’s office and the S.C. Air National Guard for travel expenses. Johnson is a major in the National Guard.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Johnson spoke only briefly, responding to the judge when she asked if he approved the delay.

“Yes,” said Johnson.