S.C. Gov. Haley denies she's linked to temple tax probe

Gov. Nikki Haley vehemently denied Thursday that she is in any way connected to a 2011 tax audit of the Sikh temple in Chapin where her parents are leaders.

“It is flat out not true,” Haley said of speculation that has swirled around the State House for weeks that she is tied to the IRS audit of the Broad River Road temple.

“I have never kept their books. I’ve never made deposits. I never signed checks. I never did financial statements,” Haley said. “This is a church that I don’t go to. There are no issues related to me and that church.”

At issue is a March 31, 2011, letter the Internal Revenue Service sent to the Sikh Religious Society of South Carolina, announcing the federal agency’s intent to examine the Sikh temple’s books. Incorporated in 1991, the purpose of the gurdwara, as Sikhs call their houses of worship, includes promoting interest in and disseminating information on Sikhism, and encouraging social and cultural gatherings to celebrate Sikh occasions.

Haley’s father is president of the temple’s executive committee and her mother is a board member, according to its website. Haley was raised Sikh but converted to Christianity in 1997. She and her immediate family attend Mount Horeb United Methodist Church in Lexington.

The lengthy list of documents the IRS requested included charitable receipts, bank statements, cancelled checks, deposit receipts, correspondence sent to contributors and copies of various tax forms for the 2007, 2008 and 2009 calendar years.

It is unknown if the probe is ongoing or has been resolved.

An IRS official said Thursday the agency cannot confirm, deny or discuss any tax matter.

In recent weeks, the IRS letter and other State House happenings have led to a near-constant buzz among Republican and Democratic lawmakers, lobbyists and other insiders that Haley, a former accountant who kept the financial books for her parents’ clothing business, is caught up in the financial examination.

The buzz has been fanned by:

A dismissed lawsuit, brought by GOP activist John Rainey, that alleged Haley broke ethics rules while a House member. A House panel is expected to consider some of the lawsuit’s claims. However, Haley’s office repeatedly has denied the allegations, calling Rainey an out-of-touch has-been.

Lt. Gov. Ken Ard’s resignation March 9 after he violated state election laws. That scandal fueled whispers that a long list of other elected officials also soon could face criminal charges. No charges since have surfaced.

Ard’s resignation led to a political game of musical chairs. Then-state Sen. Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston, gave up his job as Senate president pro tempore to assume the mostly ceremonial role of lieutenant governor. That move – from one of the state’s most powerful posts to one of its least important – fueled speculation McConnell was positioning himself to become governor should Haley resign or be forced from office. McConnell repeatedly has said he did not want the lieutenant governor’s job but took it only because the state Constitution requires the Senate leader to move up.

Next Tuesday’s release of Haley’s autobiography, putting her in the spotlight at home in South Carolina and nationally.

Richland County court records show the Chapin Gurdwara has had legal troubles. Several construction-related companies filed suit against the temple in 2010 and 2011, claiming they were not paid for work and supplies related to construction projects.

Efforts to reach Sikh temple leaders Thursday about the IRS inquiry were unsuccessful.

But Haley said she has nothing to do with any probe, adding she never has been contacted by the IRS or, she volunteered, the FBI.

Neither she nor any member of her family has received a “target letter,” saying they are the subject of an Internal Revenue Service or U.S. Department of Justice inquiry, added her spokesman, Rob Godfrey.

Instead, the first-term Republican governor slammed political blogs and the media for chasing a story that she said unfairly targets her parents, when the media should be covering her efforts to bring jobs to the state and improve its economy.

“Imagine if these were your parents,” she said.

Haley said the out-of-control rumor mill ultimately will tarnish the state’s reputation.

“When I go out to meet with companies and try to bring them to this state, these are the stories they’re reading. They’re reading the stories you write. They don’t need to read about possible indictments,” Haley said, referring to unsubstantiated Web reports Thursday that indictments were imminent in the tax matter.

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