Beaufort News

SC secretary of state to 'look into' Strive to Excel

Strive to Excel, the nonprofit student-mentoring group that has operated with little financial oversight from its board in recent years, will soon be scrutinized by the S.C. Secretary of State's office.

A spokeswoman for the department said late last week that Strive is on a list of cases that its investigator intends to "look into" soon.

"We have a lot of cases and only one investigator," said Renee Daggerhart, the department's media relations director, so it might take time before the office can turn its attention to Strive.

The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette recently reported that Strive's president and CEO, Tim Singleton, who also is Hilton Head Island High School's football coach, increased his compensation from Strive by more than $40,000 without board approval, as required by the organization's bylaws. The compensation increase came as Strive's revenue -- derived from private donations, grants and other sources, according to tax records -- was on the decline.

Singleton also has reimbursed himself for expenses charged to his personal credit card with little or no review by the board or a financial officer, several organization officials have indicated.

Until recently reconstituting, the Strive board of directors had not held a formal meeting since April 2008 and apparently did not have seven members, the minimum required by its bylaws.

An inquiry into the financial and governance problems by the secretary of state, with which nonprofit groups operating in South Carolina must register each year, could jeopardize the group's nonprofit status or trigger investigations by other federal or state authorities. There is no indication other agencies are investigating right now, however.

IRS media relations representative Mark Hanson said policy and federal disclosure laws do not allow that agency to acknowledge or discuss investigations.

The IRS website indicates complaints from the public, members of Congress, federal and state government agencies, and divisions within the IRS could prompt an investigation of a tax-exempt organization if an agent determines there is a "reasonable belief" further action is justified.

A spokesman for the state Attorney General's Office said his department typically intervenes in such matters only if there is evidence of criminal wrongdoing and only if there is a request to do so from another agency.

"If there is a case to be made, (the Secretary of State's Office is) able to do so, as is law enforcement," the attorney general's communications director, Mark Plowden, wrote in an email. "We would come into the picture if a case were sent to us for a prosecutorial decision."

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