POWERFUL SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE RESIGNS HIS OFFICE, SIGNS “COOPERATION AGREEMENT”
By FITSNEWS || Powerful S.C. Speaker of the House Bobby Harrell pleaded guilty in open court to six of nine charges related to last month’s public corruption indictment against him – confirming our earlier reporting on the disposition of the influential Lowcountry leader’s case.
As a condition of the plea, Harrell received a one year suspended sentence and three years probation. He is prohibited from holding or seeking office during that three-year period – although sources close to Harrell acknowledged his political career is likely over.
“I have agreed to this today to end what has been a two year nightmare,” Harrell said in a statement. “This has been incredibly hard on my family and me, and it is time for it to end. We have a fundamental disagreement over the proper use of a campaign account to fly a private aircraft to conduct state and campaign business, but to continue to fight this would have taken at least another year, possibly two.”
Harrell resigned his seat in the S.C. House of Representatives – and thus his Speakership – following the plea.
In addition to the terms of his probation, Harrell is also required to reimburse the state’s general fund for $93,000 of the questionable accounting related to his campaign fund. He must also pay a $30,000 fine – money which will also accrue to the state’s general fund.
Most interesting as it relates to the ongoing federal-state investigation of corruption within the S.C. General Assembly, there is a “cooperation agreement” between Harrell and first circuit solicitor David Pascoe – who inherited the Harrell case from S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson earlier this year.
Lawmakers who spoke with FITS say the open acknowledgement of Harrell’s cooperation sent shock waves through the chamber he used to lead.
“He knows everything about everybody,” one lawmaker told FITS.
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 faced 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 was also 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 (PAC) – the Palmetto Leadership Council – faced 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).
PACs – including Harrell’s (and possibly one affiliated with Haley) – are reportedly among the areas drawing special attention from the joint federal-state probe.
In addition to the PAC money, other reported focuses of the federal-state probe are, 1) misuse of campaign funds by members, 2) abusing public offices for personal gain and 3) vote-trading (or vote-selling) tied to the controversial February 2014 legislative election that saw Jean Toal win another term as chief justice of the state’s supreme court.
Other judicial elections may also be part of “the probe …”
We can only hope that the end result of this saga is a long-overdue housecleaning across multiple branches of South Carolina state government – all of which are rotten to the core. We also hope the drama results in the passage of draconian new ethics laws that eliminate self-interested behavior, provide for independent enforcement and impose harsh, punitive penalties (including guaranteed jail time) on violators.
Obviously that’s a far cry from the “ethics reform” championed by Haley – which would have actually moved our state backward on all of these critical fronts.