COLUMBIA, S.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) — John Holliday turned onto Pearson Road on July 29, 2021 and rolled into the middle of a South Carolina Highway Patrol roadblock. The first trooper Holliday met: Corporal Cam Welsh.
Welsh said he smelled alcohol and marijuana on Holliday and asked him to get out of his car.
Another patrolman, Trooper Will Baker, walked Holliday to the front of Baker’s car – a car with its dash camera rolling, “All right Mr. Holliday, how much have you had to drink?” “Half of that cup,” Holliday replied. The video showed Baker set a red plastic cup on the front of the patrol car.
Welsh, who’s pretty good at spotting suspected drunk drivers, asked Baker to perform roadside sobriety tests on Holliday. Welsh was SCHP’s Trooper 1 Trooper of the Year for DUI arrests in 2015 and was awarded the patrol’s ‘Trooper of the Year’ honor again in 2019.
The video doesn’t show it, but Welsh gets into Holliday’s car to move it out of the road. Trooper Baker begins putting Holliday through the paces when Welsh radios something to Baker that ended the testing.
“Watch him real close and make sure he doesn’t (inaudible)…,” Welsh said into the radio. “All right, sir. What I want to get you to do, put your hands behind your back for me for a second, okay,” Baker immediately tells Holliday. The video shows Baker arrest the man, then read him his rights.
Welsh later confirmed what he found inside the car: a bag of marijuana edibles on the front seat and two bags of cash in the back. The dash camera showed Baker walk Holliday to the front of the patrol car to pat him down.
“You’ve got money in every pocket, man,” Baker said as he searched the man’s pockets. The video does not show Baker remove any of the money before putting Holliday into the front passenger seat of his patrol car. Troopers turned Baker’s second in-car camera on – a camera that records the inside of the car.
Baker later estimated Holliday had around “six or eight” thousand in his pockets.
We obtained the dash camera recordings through a South Carolina Freedom of Information Act request from the S.C. Department of Public Safety and the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division.
The videos showed troopers searching Holliday’s car and removing two bags from it. Both bags contained cash, but troopers did not know how much at the time. John Holliday didn’t seem to have any idea about the amount of money he was carrying either.
“Hey, bud. You know you’re under arrest for driving under the influence, ok? All right. I found a large sum of currency in your car and narcotics. You have any comment on that,” Welsh asked Holliday from outside the passenger side window. “Uh-huh,” Holliday answered. “You don’t? You don’t have a good reason why you have that much money—you know about how much it is?” ”Uh-huh,” Holliday answered again.
The dash camera recording shows troopers huddled around the cash, trying to estimate the dollar amount; one trooper guessed “a couple hundred” thousand. As the patrolmen continued talking, Holliday could see them out of the front of the car where he sat handcuffed.
Holliday began banging on the floorboard to get their attention. Holliday was ready to make a deal.
“Yes sir,” the trooper who walked to Holliday’s window said, “I’ll tell ya, if it gets reported I can’t help nobody,” Holliday tells the trooper. “If you get reported you can’t help nobody? What you mean,” the trooper asks. “Telling you what I know,” Holliday answered, “What you know,” the trooper replied.”
“I can’t do that once I go through the system,” Holliday responded.
The trooper relayed Holliday’s conversation to Corporal Cam Welsh. “He said he can’t help nobody if he goes in the system,” the trooper tells Welsh.
Welsh walks over to Holliday for clarification:
WELSH: “What do you mean you won’t be able to help nobody?”
HOLLIDAY: “I mean, for the money.”
WELSH: “Shoot straight for me.”
HOLLIDAY: “I know, but I can’t really, I can’t really talk about nothing – once my name get run and then it hit the paper, like…”
WELSH: “You in the game?”
WELSH: “You in the game?”
HOLLIDAY: “Semi. Yeah, but I can’t, once I get run, that’s all I got is my word, but once I get run it’s over. It ain’t nothing I could be able to talk about.”
Welsh asked Holliday if he’d been charged in the past, which the man confirmed he had been charged “way back,” but did not mention the exact charge. Welsh tells Holliday the patrol asked Sumter County Sheriff’s narcotics unit to come to question Holliday.
Holliday told Welsh he estimated he had between $70,000 and $80,000 in the car, but didn’t know how much he had inside. The only information Welsh got from Holliday concerning the money is the cash belonged to someone else.
WELSH: “Is that yours, your money?”
WELSH: “That’s somebody else’s money?”
HOLLIDAY: (nods in agreement)
WELSH: “You transporting it?”
HOLLIDAY: “Yeah, just – somebody asked me to do them a favor.”
WELSH: “They paying you to move it?”
HOLLIDAY: (nods head in agreement)
Troopers worked to get Drug Enforcement Administration agents to the scene, but said the DEA could not respond. The patrol later confirmed the DEA adopted the currency and drug investigation regarding Holliday. The patrolmen called the Sumter County Sheriff’s drug team to the scene to talk to Holliday.
SHERIFF’S NARCS OFFER ‘HELP’ TO HOLLIDAY
The dash camera recording shows three agents – who were not wearing a law enforcement uniform – arrive during the stop and look at the evidence pulled from Holliday’s car. The three were identified as Sumter County Sheriff’s Office “narcs” by the patrol.
The video shows a female agent walking to the patrol car window to talk with Holliday. The conversation quickly turned to how the sheriff’s agents could “help” Holliday. Here’s the transcript of that conversation:
AGENT: “So, if he’s arresting you for DUI, whatever charges with Highway Patrol, he’ll take you to the jail and then tomorrow one of us – either me or my partner – will come and serve you some warrants in the morning and that’s where we will give you our number, we’ll talk to you and explain how we can help you as far as your charges go.”
HOLLIDAY: “All right.”
AGENT: “We’re going to expect you to call us when you get out so we can help you with the charges, okay?”
HOLLIDAY: “I don’t know what y’all going do. First of all, I’m not drunk. That’s the thing.”
AGENT: “Let me explain it to you, okay? I don’t have anything to do with the DUI…”
HOLLIDAY: “Once I’m in there, it’s, it’s – ain’t nothing I can talk to nobody about, once I’m in there. That’s all I’m going to say.”
AGENT: “Just because you go to jail and you’re charged with it doesn’t mean those charges have to stay with you, we’re able to help you with those charges, okay?”
HOLLIDAY: “You know I been in the feds. I been in the feds a long time in DC, Brooklyn. I did time so I know the rules. But if I go in there tonight, ain’t nothing I can help nobody about because everybody going to know I went to jail. You understand? So I had money on me and it’s a few people know I had money on me, so once they know I went, so this ain’t nothing (inaudible)…”
WATCH: Sumter County Sheriff’s Narcotics Unit Conversation with John Holliday
AGENT: “We’ll talk about that, okay? We’ll explain what we can do for you, and we’ll talk about it at a different time when you ain’t sitting up here, okay?”
The agents leave Holliday and walk back to the troopers. The agent didn’t appear to take any of the evidence with them and never adopted the drug case. Court records show only two charges against Holliday from that night: driving under the influence and manufacturing/possession of drugs with intent to distribute.
The Holliday arrest warrant shows the July 2021 charge is his “third or subsequent offense.” None of the charges were filed by the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office. Holliday also has not been indicted and both charges are listed as pending in Sumter County.
$3,140 UNACCOUNTED FOR
Trooper Will Baker drove John Holliday from the roadblock and took him to jail. Baker charged Holliday with DUI. While Baker was gone, Corporal Cam Welsh and another trooper continued with the evidence collection involving Holliday’s car.
Welsh later said he gathered three bags of cash from inside Holliday’s car: the two bags troopers found inside the car and a clear, plastic evidence bag Welsh used to bag more money he found inside Holliday’s console. Welsh placed the bags into the back of his patrol car and drove back to the Troop 1’s Sumter office.
Welsh turned his in-car camera on himself, making sure he video recorded his trip while he was alone with the evidence.
During Welsh’s ride to the office, Trooper Baker called him from inside the jail. Baker was faced with ensuring he properly handled the cash from Holliday’s pockets, “Stick it in an evidence bag and when you come to the office, make sure you keep your recorder on in your car,” Welsh told Baker in a phone call during Welsh’s trip to the office.
“Just leave it on so there won’t ever be any question about anything with that money,” Welsh said in the call, “I’ve never had this much currency where I’m dealing with it myself, so I just want to make sure nobody’s saying we’re doing any funny stuff.”
Welsh got to the patrol office before anyone else. He later told investigators he grabbed the bags of cash out of the back of his patrol car and carried it inside the troop office. Welsh loaded three bags into his car at the roadblock, but carried only two bags inside the office.
SCHP Evidence Technician, Corporal Matthew Nix, also made his way to the patrol office to meet the troopers that night. Nix’s responsibility was to take the cash back to the patrol’s Central Evidence Facility in Columbia and to make sure every dollar seized was properly counted.
The Troopers separated the cash into denominations, then stacked the bills in such a way they could efficiently count the dollar amount. The tally sheet the Troopers created that night shows 4,899 bills – each of which had to be accounted for. The patrol policy required the Troopers to perform a count, then Nix to perform a second count. Both counts had to match before Nix could bag the money and leave with it.
But, that did not happen.
WATCH: SLED’s interview with SCHP Corporal James “Cam” Welsh
After hours of counting, Nix left the patrol office after he and Welsh determined there were 4,899 bills totaling $110,482. Nix placed the cash into three separate evidence bags and took the money to the CEF and placed it into a safe.
WATCH: SLED’s Interview with SCHP Corporal Matthew Nix:
On August 3, a patrolman in the forfeiture division took the money to the bank to be counted and to have a cashier’s check made out to the federal government. After three separate counts using automated currency counting machines, the bank found a $3,140 discrepancy between what the Troopers and Nix claimed on their tally sheet and the amount that truly existed.
Nix was called into his captain’s office that day – the same day where the process to open a criminal investigation was started.
THE SUNDAY DISCOVERY
Corporal Cam Welsh left the Sumter patrol office the night of the seizure and went home to begin a three-day weekend. But, two days after the seizure, Welsh said he went into his patrol car and found some of the evidence he took from the car at the roadblock lying in the back of his car.
Welsh said he moved a briefcase he keeps in the rear passenger floorboard and found that clear, plastic evidence bag he used to seal the money he found in Holliday’s console.
“So, between about fainting, throwing up and everything else, I panicked. I honestly didn’t know what to do with it,” Welsh later told a SLED agent during an August 2021 interview. “The first thing that crossed my mind is mishandling evidence and the Highway Patrol is not real big on that. So I was scared.”
Welsh said he didn’t do anything after finding the seized cash. He didn’t call the patrol to report it, either.
“So the following day I called my stepdad, who’s the sheriff of Clarendon County (Sheriff Tim Baxley); I always call him for advice and stuff and we sat there and talked about it and he said just call Paige (Sgt. Paige Dubose), get this straight,” Welsh told SLED.
Welsh admitted he didn’t follow that advice.
The corporal returned to work on August 2 – now a full day after finding the cash evidence and still hadn’t notified his chain of command about the money. Welsh worked his shift and didn’t meet with Sgt. Dubose to tell her about the evidence, according to patrol records.
No one at the patrol found out about what Welsh had found until August 3 – two days after the Sunday discovery. Welsh said he got a call from Nix that day before his shift started telling him $3,000 was “missing” from the count.
“I said, dude, I don’t have clue what’s going on with that,” Welsh told SLED of what he told Nix in the call before the men finished their call. But SCHP investigative records show Welsh left an important detail out of that call: the part about the money he found in his Sunday discovery.
Welsh claimed in his interview with SLED that he told Nix “then” – in the call – that he found the money. But, an Oct. 22, 2021 letter from South Carolina Department of Public Safety Director Robert Woods shows Welsh did not tell Nix about the money “then.”
“However, you called Cpl. Nix back 24 minutes later,” to tell him about finding the money two days before, Woods wrote in the letter to Welsh.
“I said, I told him then: I found an evidence bag of money in my car. I said, it’s not $3,000, I said and it wasn’t even counted—just fell in between my briefcase and my backseat,” Welsh continued telling the SLED agent in the August 2021 interview.
Welsh acknowledged he counted three bags of cash – including his evidence bag – when he loaded his patrol car at the roadblock that night, but later missed the smaller evidence bag at the patrol office, “Honestly, I didn’t even think about it at that point because I just grabbed everything that was sitting in my seat because initially it was in my seat and I guess it slid—,” Welsh said before the SLED agent interrupted with a clarifying question, “Backseat behind you?” “Backseat behind me. I guess it slid forward down on top of my briefcase and down in front of it,” Welsh explained.
Welsh surrendered the evidence bag to his supervisors on August 3. The evidence bag, which contained $894, was not a SCHP-issued evidence bag, instead Welsh handed in a bag that belonged to the Clarendon County Sheriff’s Office; an agency his stepfather runs. The corporal told SLED investigators he has “numerous” evidence bags that belonged to the sheriff’s office that he keeps in his SCHP patrol car.
We emailed and called Clarendon County Sheriff Tim Baxley to find out why his office provided Welsh the evidence bags and when. Baxley never responded to the email sent to his county email and did not return a phone message left with his assistant on Jan. 26.
The patrol confirmed its individual evidence bags do not have a way to be tracked until evidence is placed into the bag, the bag is sealed, and evidence and case numbers are assigned. Welsh told SLED and the patrol he sealed and labeled the evidence bag at the roadblock that night and he turned in a bag that was sealed and labeled.
When asked whether the patrol could confirm the bag Welsh surrendered was the bag he sealed at the roadblock, the patrol responded in an email, “Both the SLED and OPR (Office of Professional Responsibility) investigations revealed that there was insufficient evidence to indicate otherwise,” SCDPS Spokeswoman Sherri Iacobelli wrote in a Jan. 28 email to Queen City News Chief Investigator Jody Barr.
When contacted by Barr, Welsh declined comment and would not agree to be interviewed. Nix also did not respond to social media messages and a number for Nix was not available.
Both Corporal Cam Welsh and Corporal Matthew Nix were suspended without pay on August 3. The highway patrol opened an internal investigation into the “missing” money and into why Welsh turned in an evidence bag of cash four days after the cash seizure.
“Request for SLED Investigation,” is what OPR Chief Kenneth Phelps wrote in the subject line of an email asking the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division to investigate his troopers. The request named only two people as “primary involved employees”: Corporal James C. Welsh and Officer Matthew Nix.
SLED opened a criminal investigation within the week and interviewed both Welsh and Nix on August 9. We obtained the video recorded interviews from SLED under the state’s open records act.
Welsh described to the investigator that he believed the discrepancy in the troop office was a miscount and denied anyone took money from the seizure, “There’s no way. Everybody that I have dealing with—I’ll tell you: Matt, I’d bet my job on him, he wouldn’t take a penny. My two boys that was with us; Baker and Rickard, they wouldn’t take a penny—I know I wouldn’t, I don’t need it,” Welsh told the SLED agent in the August 9 interview inside the SLED Pee Dee Region Office in Florence.
“Just saying, I work hard. I have a plumbing business that I make triple what I make with Highway Patrol. I just don’t need—I’ve got almost 11 years in, I don’t need that. Matt’s got, he’s got more time in that I do, he did my background investigation when I started,” Welsh said.
LISTEN: SCHP’s Office of Professional Responsibility’s Interview with Corporal Matthew Nix
Nix also confirmed he believed the discrepancy was the result of an error the troopers – and himself made – during the counting and both men admitted to not counting behind the other to confirm the total dollar amount they wrote on the tally sheet was the actual dollar amount inside the evidence bags.
Nix went further in explaining why he didn’t ensure policy was followed that night, “Honestly, I was exhausted. I was physically counting 20s nodding. I compare it to bobbing for apples. I nodded off several times counting 20s and would have to catch myself and start back over in the stack I was counting,” Nix said in an audio recorded OPR interview in September.
“It had gotten so mundane at that point and of course, this was 2, 3 o’clock in the morning and I was off my game. I’m not going to sit here and tell you I was tip top. I was doing the best I could because I knew I could not leave that building with us not in agreement,” Nix said.
Nix said he and Welsh “Planted the flag” on the $110,482 figure without confirming that number’s accuracy with a recount. The final, official count was $107,342, according to Woods’ letter.
OPR also questioned Nix about the agency’s cash seizure policy, a policy about which Nix claimed ignorance, “Honestly, I don’t know the policy even though I do work at CEF. I know what I was taught.”
The patrol also found Corporal Welsh performed a factory reset of his department-issued cell phone on August 4, the day after he found out he was under investigation by both SLED and the Office of Professional Responsibility, the patrol’s internal affairs investigative unit.
“You performed a factory reset of your issued cell phone before turning it in,” SCDPS Director Robert Woods wrote in the Oct. 22 letter to Welsh. “You advised the OPR that due to having personal contact information saved in your issued cell phone, you wanted to reset the contact list to remove those contact numbers before turning it in. You claimed that it was only your intent to reset the contact list and to not “wipe” all the data from the phone. You acknowledged that you should not have factory reset your issued cell phone, and that having personal phone numbers in the phone was not a legitimate reason for you to attempt to reset the phone’s contact list.”
SLED asked both Welsh and Nix to volunteer for a polygraph. Both men agreed.
Welsh was polygraphed on August 13 and again on August 31. SLED records show “Deception Indicated” on both polygraph results. Nix was polygraphed the same days and Nix’s first polygraph result shows “Deception Indicated” and his second examination rendered a result showing “No Opinion.”
The patrol waited for SLED to complete its criminal investigation before finishing the OPR investigation. SLED completed its investigation on Oct. 1 and sent its file to Sumter County Solicitor Chip Finney to determine whether to bring charges.
Troopers Will Baker and Zachary Rickard were also interviewed by SLED and agreed to polygraphs. SLED polygraph records show both men showed “No Deception Indicated.” Neither Baker nor Rickard were ever suspended and were not disciplined.
On Oct. 5, Finney declined prosecution writing, “…we find there is a lack of substantial evidence to prosecute the above subjects for a violation of the criminal laws of this state. Based on the evidence submitted and reviewed by our office it was clear that the four officers did not perform their duties in a workmanlike manner. Several policies were not followed leading to a miscount of the seized funds. In addition, one of the subjects allowed money to remain unaccounted for over 24 hours.”
The solicitor also indicated the drug case against John Holliday may be in jeopardy, “These factors will make it harder for the forfeiture team to successfully do their job and may impact our ability to convict the defendant who was charged that night.”
“As complicated of a matter this is, to me it’s a simple explanation: we messed the count up. That’s it, it was miscounted,” Nix told the agent during his August 9 interview. “Do you think anybody took the money,” the agent asked, “No,” Nix responded.
Welsh was promoted to Corporal for Troop 1’s Clarendon and Sumter County in May 2020. Welsh was the supervisor on scene the night of the John Holliday cash seizure.
On Oct. 21, Welsh received a letter from SCDPS Director Robert Woods notifying him the patrol’s internal investigation found multiple violations against him. The investigation found Welsh “failed to count and document” the seized cash in accordance with patrol policy, Welsh “destroyed/deleted” agency documents” by resetting his state cell phone, and Welsh “mishandled evidence” and “inappropriately stored” the money in his patrol car.
OPR issued “Not-Sustained” findings on allegations Welsh texted sent evidence photographs from his state phone to his personal phone, that Welsh was “untruthful” with his chain of command about when he found the evidence bag in his patrol car, and that he took money from the cash seizure “for his personal use.”
The patrol paid Welsh backpay for his suspension that ran from August 3 through Oct. 21.
Woods also notified Welsh he was being demoted from Corporal to Lance Corporal; resulting in a $11,219 pay cut. The patrol also reassigned Welsh to Troop 7, which spans from just south of Columbia to the Georgia border.
OPR found that Corporal Matthew Nix “failed to count and document money” in the manner detailed by SCHP policy. Nix was also being investigated on an allegation that he “inappropriately took money from a cash seizure for his personal use,” which the OPR report listed with a “Not-Sustained” finding.
Nix was also paid backpay for the time he was suspended, but was docked eight hours pay as disciplinary action.
Both men are still employed with the Highway Patrol and the status of their disciplinary action has not changed.