Attorney General: No Crime in Dennis Probe

WINNSBORO (Dec. 18, 2015) – More than a year after the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) opened the case, the S.C. Attorney General’s Office cleared Dan Dennis of any criminal wrongdoing in connection with allegations by Former Fairfield County Administrator Phil Hinely that Dennis had blackmailed him, according to documents released by SLED last week in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

Those documents detail an investigation that opened on June 14, 2014 after Hinely alleged that he (Hinely) had been the victim of a blackmail and extortion plot by Dennis.

Hinely resigned as County Administrator in June of 2013 amid a firestorm of controversy and public criticism over allegations that he used his County computer, during working hours, to disseminate pornographic images via email. An initial SLED investigation of the pornography allegations evolved into a second investigation of whether Hinely disseminated obscene images, a crime under S.C. Code Section 16-15-305. In a final report on that investigation, Sixth Circuit Solicitor Doug Barfield stated in a letter dated Oct. 20, 2013, that for obscene material to be illegal, it must, among other specifications, have been disseminated. Barfield said his agent, Britt Dove, concluded that Hinely had not sent the questionable files to anyone else after he received them.

According to Sen. Creighton Coleman (D-17), who requested the investigation, Barfield’s letter only indicated that Hinely did not forward illegal material. Coleman maintains that Hinely did forward pornographic material, and noted that, in law, there is a difference between pornographic and obscene.

“He sent stuff out,” Coleman said. “You know it and I know it.”

According to Hinely’s statements in the SLED documents, that firestorm resulted from a disagreement between Hinely and Dan Dennis.

Between 2006 and 2009, Hinely’s testimony states, the Dennis Corp. had experienced a cost overrun on a County project. Hinely blamed this overrun on Dennis’s lack of quality control. In his own testimony, Dennis said the overage was due to changes made in order to meet the standards of multiple agencies involved. Nevertheless, Dennis gave the County a check for $15,000 for the overrun, and in 2009 the County renewed their contract with Dennis Corp. But two years later, when the contract expired and went to another firm, Hinely told SLED, Dennis came to his office in Winnsboro to ask for the return of the $15,000 and threatened to expose Hinely as a racist and a pornographer.

Hinely told SLED that he (Hinely) had received ‘inappropriate images’ via email from a Dennis Corp. employee and that he (Hinely) had, indeed, forwarded some of those emails, which he said were neither illegal nor policy violations at the time. Hinely said he asked the Dennis Corp. employee to stop sending him the emails.

Dennis’s testimony stated that it was Hinely who sent the images to the Dennis Corp. employee and that Dennis asked Hinely to stop sending them. But Dennis denied making any attempt to extort, threaten or blackmail Hinely. Dennis stated in his testimony that he only wanted the $15,000 back that he paid for the overage. When Hinely refused, saying Dennis had made an engineering error, Dennis’s testimony states that started a domino effect and the pornographic photos were later leaked to the public. The SLED report does not suggest who leaked them.

After interviewing several county employees, elected officials and citizens concerning Hinely’s accusations against Dennis, SLED closed their investigation on Aug. 28, marking it “Cleared.”

“I have concluded that criminal prosecution is not appropriate given the facts and circumstances presented,” Brian T. Petrano, Assistant Attorney General, wrote in a declination letter, dated Aug. 21 regarding Hinely’s allegations against Dennis.