- Associated Press - Monday, October 31, 2016

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Retiring Sen. Ray Cleary was ordered Monday to pay nearly $125,000 for violating state ethics laws by improperly reporting campaign expenses, donations and refunds.

The Senate Ethics Committee’s 10 members publicly reprimanded their colleague and ordered him to pay a $41,900 fine. He must also return nearly $48,000 to his campaign account, reimburse the committee $27,400, and donate $7,500 to a children’s charity.

Cleary, R-Murrells Inlet, said he will pay by the order’s Dec. 1 deadline.

“It is what it is,” he said, insisting he “didn’t spend anything out of my account that wasn’t Senate-related.”

The 68-year-old dentist said his campaign filings got out of whack after he delegated the filing of quarterly online reports amid his busy schedule, but he recognizes that was his responsibility.

“Did my staff member misreport? Yeah. Was every ‘i’ dotted and ‘t’ crossed? No,” he said Monday. But “there was nothing fraudulent.”

At last week’s hearing, Cleary did not dispute the findings of an attorney and accountant hired by the committee. The $27,400 to be reimbursed to the committee covers their fees.

They found he violated six categories of ethics law, including underreporting donations, not reporting expenses, not properly reporting who a check was written to, and reimbursing himself without proper documentation - including for “various lunches, meetings and mileage,” the order says.

Many of the separate violations from 2013 through 2015 were due to illegible or insufficient receipts to back up Cleary’s explanations, accountant Tracy Amos said last week.

The order fines him $1,000 each for 25 violations and $1,000 for each quarter a donation went unreported, for $7,000 total.

The single largest violation, and amount to repay, involved a “misrepresented” refund.

According to both the order and the “stipulations of fact” Cleary agreed to before last week’s hearing, his filings showed a $7,900 reimbursement in February 2015 to cover airfare, hotel and meals for a trip to Israel and Turkey. “This trip was not taken,” both say without explanation. Cleary’s account wasn’t refunded until August 2015, and the amount was $400 short, the documents read.

That led to a $2,000 fine for the violation itself - the maximum. He also must give $7,500 to Children’s Trust, since the refund was paid through a cash transfer, which state law doesn’t allow. The order also adds $7,900 to the total fines.

Senate Ethics Chairman Luke Rankin, R-Conway, declined to answer questions about the findings.

“The order speaks for itself,” he said.

Cleary said Monday he did take the trip and that state House members who were with him were allowed to use their campaign donations. Separate House and Senate ethics panels oversee their members’ campaign filings.

Cleary, a senator since 2005, did not seek re-election this year.

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