POWERFUL LEGISLATIVE LEADER FACING CHARGES RELATED TO PUBLIC CORRUPTION PROBE
S.C. Speaker of the House of Representatives Bobby Harrell – a “Republican” from Charleston – has been indicted on nine counts related to an ongoing public corruption investigation.
Harrell’s indictment in Richland County – home of the state capital of Columbia, S.C. – comes just weeks after he celebrated the apparent end of the probe into his various dirty dealings.
First circuit solicitor David Pascoe – who inherited the case from S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson – will handle the prosecution of the powerful legislative leader, who faces charges of malfeasance, misconduct in office and campaign finance violations.
(READ THE INDICTMENT HERE).
“At this point in the process, the indictments are mere accusations,” Pascoe said. “Mr. Harrell is presumed innocent until proven guilty.”
That’s true, but the political fallout for Harrell began almost immediately.
“He’s toast,” one S.C. State House insider told FITS. “(Lawmakers) will be calling for him to resign.”
Perhaps the most damaging of the nine indictments was the one related to false ethics reporting.
“(Harrell) used his campaign account to pay credit card debt and to pay for goods or services for his home, family and friends that were not for any purposes related to his campaign for or position in the South Carolina House of Representatives,” the third of nine true bills of indictment read. “(Harrell) concealed this pattern of unlawful payments by falsely claiming they were for campaign and official House of Representatives related purposes, when in fact the expenditures were for personal use.”
Harrell has not yet been suspended from office (typically the Speaker of the House suspends lawmakers who are indicted of crimes carrying a penalty of more than two years jail time). Legislative leaders tell FITS discussions are underway regarding that process, though. Harrell can continue his bid for reelection, however if the charges against him are still pending he would be suspended at the beginning of the next legislative session – which commences in January 2015.
Harrell wasn’t immediately available for comment regarding the indictment.
Less than a month ago, Harrell publicly announced that the statewide grand jury investigation led by Wilson had been dropped.
“My attorneys recently were informed that I am no longer the subject of a state Grand Jury investigation,” Harrell said at the time.
He also reaffirmed his innocence, saying “I violated no law and have only sought an independent prosecutor free of political motives and influence,” referring to Wilson.
Of course there continues to be widespread speculation related to an ongoing federal investigation of Harrell. In fact the third indictment referenced “untaxed income,” which could ultimately become the lynchpin of a federal probe.
Harrell’s case has been one of the biggest political soap operas of the year – dominating headlines for months ever since Wilson referred the case to the statewide grand jury back in January. In May, an ethically compromised circuit court judge ruled that Wilson must shut down his probe and let a corrupt panel of S.C. House members handle the investigation (the same legislative panel that whitewashed S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley‘s ethics scandal two years ago).
Wilson blasted that ruling – joining a chorus of critics of this corrupt self-policing mechanism.
“There is absolutely no way this case will get a fair hearing in the S.C. House of Representatives,” he told FITS months ago.
In July, the S.C. Supreme Court ruled that Wilson’s office had the authority to investigate Harrell – although it did refer the question of whether Wilson could remain on the case back to the lower court.
Harrell has been accused of a wide range of allegations. In September 2012, he was busted improperly reimbursing himself from his campaign account for dubious flight-related expenses (Harrell is a pilot). How much? More than $325,000.
Harrell also stands accused of applying improper pressure on the S.C. Pharmacy Board and the S.C. Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation (SCLLR) on behalf of his pharmaceutical business – using his official letterhead, no less. Additionally, Harrell’s political action committee is under scrutiny for allegedly misappropriating and misreporting funds – including an effort to force taxpayers to pay hundreds of millions of dollars on an unnecessary transportation project.
He hasn’t exactly responded like an innocent man, either – assassinating the character of one of the reporters who investigated ham, strong-arming her newspaper into backing down (by allegedly threatening to withhold an annual bribe the paper receives from the S.C. General Assembly), launching a smear campaign against Wilson and attempting to strip Wilson’s office of its power legislatively.
What do you think? Will Harrell survive this scandal? Vote in our poll and post your thoughts in our comments section below …
HARRELL INDICTMENTS (.pdf)
UPDATE I: Calls for resignation begin …
UPDATE II: Sharks circling Harrell …
UPDATE III: Harrell responds …
UPDATE IV: Harrell suspends himself from office …