Indictments: Ex-electric co-op chairman got free power, work

ST. MATTHEWS, S.C. (AP) — The former chairman of an electric cooperative in South Carolina broke the law by getting more than $23,000 in free electricity and hundreds of thousands of dollars in free utility work, according to indictments filed Friday.

Heath Hill, 69, faces five charges handed up by a grand jury in Calhoun County. Hill was on the Tri-County Electric Cooperative board for more than two decades before customers voted to fire him in August 2018.

Along with the free electricity over 15 years, Hill also was improperly given $80,000 from an annuity and utility workers did free work on his farm, according to the indictments.

The State newspaper reported last year that a utility employee said in a sworn statement Hill paid $2,677 for a roughly $300,000 project to install electric lines to power irrigation equipment on his farm.

The newspaper also reported several other board members appeared to get similar perks and also called excessive meetings so they could get extra pay.

Solicitor David Pascoe said the investigation into Tri-County Electric Co-Op continues and he would have no other comment.

The indictments are accusations of misconduct based on just the prosecution’s presentation to the grand jury and Hill will respond at the proper time, defense lawyer Joe McCulloch said in a statement.

Tri-County has about 14,000 customers in the middle of South Carolina. It is one of 20 electric co-ops in the state. The independent, not-for-profit utilities serve about 1.5 million customers in all 46 counties in South Carolina.

Hill was indicted on one count of misconduct in office and four counts of breaking state ethics laws. He will be allowed to turn himself in when the court schedules a bond hearing.

The problems exposed by the newspaper led the South Carolina Legislature to pass a law this year requiring co-ops to be more transparent and placed the utilities under the oversight of the state utility watchdog, the Office of Regulatory Staff.

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Information from: The State, http://www.thestate.com