The Internet (to say nothing of the State House) is currently freaking out over Palmetto Public Record’s exclusive story that an indictment against South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley on charges of tax fraud may be imminent. The PPR website crashed within half an hour due to the massive amount of traffic the story is getting, which is easily the best problem this website has ever had.
But if and when the indictment comes down, what will it say? The investigation began with the Internal Revenue Service looking into evidence that the Sikh temple run by Gov. Haley’s father violated its tax-exempt status by supporting Haley’s bid for governor, but that’s not a criminal offense. So what did the IRS investigation turn up that got the Justice Department involved?
In 2009, the Sikh Society of South Carolina took out a $750,000 loan from BB&T Bank with the help of bank president Mike Brenan. The purpose of the loan was to build a new temple on the Sikh Society’s land in Chapin, but for some reason the contractors never got paid. At least five lawsuits have been filed against the Sikh Society since 2010, alleging that the group bilked contractors out of nearly $130,000.
Meanwhile, the new temple sits half-complete off Broad River Road as weeds take over the abandoned construction site. In order to recoup their money, the contractors have asked a judge to foreclose on the temple and sell the land, leaving the Sikh Society without a place to worship.
So what happened to the money? Did it “disappear” into the Randhawa family’s million-dollar waterfront home on Lake Murray, or (as our sources have speculated) did some of it go into the governor’s campaign account? Whatever happened to the money, we do know what happened to Brenan: Gov. Nikki Haley appointed him to the state Board of Education.
With creditors closing in, the Sikh Society began asking its worshipers and other members of the community to donate money — ostensibly to finish building the temple, but in reality to pay off the society’s mass of outstanding debts. Donors are asked to mail checks directly to the Randhawas’ house, even though Gov. Haley’s father isn’t the society’s registered agent.
According to information obtained by Palmetto Public Record, federal investigators are looking into allegations that in return for donating to a temple that may never be built, Dr. Randhawa gives donors receipts for amounts larger than their tax-deductible donation. The feds are also looking into whether Gov. Haley used her political influence to convince wealthy potential donors to give money to the temple, which is where her role in the investigation comes into play.
At the bottom of the temple’s website is an instruction for its members, printed in all caps to illustrate the message’s importance: EVERY MEMBER HAS THE RESPONSIBILITY OF PROJECTING A GOOD IMAGE AS SIKH AMERICANS.
While the Randhawa family has certainly projected a good image, whether that image is an accurate one is a different story altogether.