The State Law Enforcement Division last year dropped its investigation into the 2019 Atlantic Beach mayoral election after failing to find any evidence.
The investigation focused on whether Mayor Jake Evans’ sister, Irene Armstrong, had offered to help one of her tenants with rent if her tenant would vote for her brother, Jake Armstrong, in the 2019 election.
SLED dropped the investigation after failing to find any participating witnesses or evidence of bribery or illegal influence.
“As it is, there is no evidence to believe that either Armstrong or Mayor Evans tried to bribe anyone or illegally influence Mr. Evan’s reelection,” Solicitor Jimmy Richardson wrote in October to Special Agent Brad Thompson, who conducted the investigation.
According to an investigative report the agency released in February, the inquiry started when William Booker, a former Atlantic Beach town manager and 2019 town council candidate, called Richardson saying he had information that people may have been offered things of value in exchange for their vote. Richardson called SLED.
Generally, SLED is called in to investigate political offices to avoid a conflict of interest.
“You put police in a strange situation when you’re saying 'Go investigate your boss,'” Richardson said.
On Nov. 20, 2019, Thompson called Booker, who told the agent he was contacted by one Elizabeth Jones, the report said. According to Booker’s account, Jones told Booker she was behind on her rent in an apartment owned by Irene Armstrong, and that Armstrong told her she would help Jones with the back rent if she voted for her brother, Jake Evans, for mayor.
That same day, Thompson contacted Jones by phone to gather preliminary information. According to the report, Jones told Thompson that she was behind on rent and that Armstrong offered to give her more time if she voted for Evans for mayor. Jones said she eventually moved out of the apartment before voting, and later received a call from Armstrong asking if she planned to vote.
Jones told Thompson that Evans had driven her to Conway to vote absentee along with two other people named “Chris” and “Shannon,” although Jones didn’t know the pair’s last names. Jones said Evans never told her who to vote for.
The report said that Jones voted on Oct. 16, 2019 at the Horry County Elections Office in Conway, and that a Shannon Harris and a Christopher Cole also voted there the same day. The report doesn’t say who they voted for. Thompson was unable to contact Harris and Cole.
Thompson also tried to follow up with Jones, the report said, but attempts to contact her by phone and at several addresses listed for her and other family members were unsuccessful.
In a letter following the investigation, Richardson Praised Thompson’s “thorough” investigation, adding, “You tried several times to make contact with the tenant; however, she would not participate nor call you back. Even if she had been a willing witness, we would have had an incredible time proving this case beyond a reasonable doubt.”
The report said Armstrong denied offering to help Jones with the rent, and denied offering anyone anything of value to vote for Evans. In an interview with Thompson on June 20, 2020, Armstrong said she filed for an eviction against Jones, but that Jones moved before she was served.
That same day, Evans told Thompson that he was unaware of the allegations against his sister. He confirmed that he had taken several folks into Conway to vote absentee, but said he never promised anything of value in exchange for a vote and was not with the individuals when they voted.
Atlantic Beach’s 2019 mayoral election is under investigation by the State Law Enforcement D…
Without anyone to corroborate the allegations, SLED dropped the investigation.
“You’d have to have physical evidence that something afoot occurred or a testifying person to come in and lay it out there,” Richardson said. “Anytime you have any sort of case, you have to have a witness to tell a story.”
Reached by phone Wednesday, Armstrong denied knowledge of the investigation.
“I don’t know anything about that,” she said.
Booker and Evans could not be reached for comment.
Evans won reelection as Atlantic Beach’s mayor in 2019. That year, Booker lost his bid for a council seat, beat by write-in candidate Glenda Williams.