- Associated Press - Thursday, October 20, 2016

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - State police are investigating allegations that a state Senate candidate started an “inappropriate relationship” with a 16-year-old girl nearly 25 years ago, when he was a high school teacher in his 20s and she was his student.

Mike Fanning’s fellow Democrats call the claim, made in the final stretch of the campaign, politically motivated.

Fanning, 49, of Great Falls, is being investigated by the State Law Enforcement Division at the request of the Hampton County Sheriff’s Office, where his former student filed the complaint on Sept. 29. SLED took the case on Oct. 3, according to the department’s spokesman, Thom Berry.

The sheriff’s report, obtained by The Associated Press through a public records request, says the alleged “inappropriate relationship” that began in 1993 involved “fondling - forcible.” It did not provide more details.

Fanning, a former high school teacher in Estill and Columbia, did not respond to a request for comment.

But Sen. Gerald Malloy, an attorney, said Fanning “categorically denies the allegations.”

“The timing is suspect. The information is suspect. This is politically motivated. There’s no other conclusion to reach,” said Malloy, D-Hartsville.

Malloy contends the “blind accusations” were orchestrated so that they are impossible to resolve before voters choose between Fanning and Republican Mark Palmer on Nov. 8.

State Republican Party Chairman Matt Moore called on Democrats Tuesday to “immediately disassociate themselves from Mike Fanning and go on the record opposing his candidacy.” A website funded by the Senate Republican Caucus links to articles about the allegations.

That didn’t stop Malloy and several other leading Democratic legislators from hosting a fundraiser for Fanning Wednesday night. Malloy said it had been rescheduled from earlier in the month because of the hurricane.

Fanning’s former student, now 40, told the AP on Thursday that the timing is “unfortunate,” but the public should know. She said Fanning took advantage of his powerful position as her teacher. She said their relationship continued through her college years.

“If you are presenting yourself to the public in certain ways, be truthful and honest,” she said.

She says Fanning contacted her through a Facebook message last October to tell her of his intent to run. Had he not done that and then “flat-out denied the entire situation,” she said, she would not have filed the report.

SLED has already contacted her, she said.

The AP generally does not identify people who say they were sexually assaulted.

Fanning is the director of the Olde English Consortium, a Chester-based nonprofit that coordinates education initiatives in the region. He beat incumbent Democratic Sen. Creighton Coleman, a 16-year veteran of the Legislature, in the June primary for the seat representing Fairfield, Chester and parts of York counties - a heavily Democratic district.

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