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State House Dragnet: Who’s Next?




By FITSNEWS || A year ago, S.C. Speaker of the House Bobby Harrell – along with S.C. Sen. Hugh Leatherman – was one of the two most powerful men in the Palmetto State.

Today?  He’s out of a job …

Harrell pleaded guilty this week to six of nine public corruption charges, earning himself three years of probation, hefty fines and a ban on seeking office for the duration of his punishment.  Was it a fair rap?  Our intrepid columnist Liz Gunn doesn’t think so.  But the part of Harrell’s deal that sent shivers through the South Carolina political establishment was the “cooperation agreement” he signed with the government.

All of a sudden, the man with perhaps the most concise, comprehensive knowledge of the rampant corruption that exists in state government … has turned state’s evidence.

“A**holes are puckering all over state tonight,” one lawmaker told FITS, referring to colleagues in the S.C. General Assembly who are fearful Harrell might rat them out.

Harrell’s plea deal comes at a critical juncture in an ongoing federal-state investigation of corruption at the S.C. State House.  In fact it could signify a major expansion of “the probe,” which was first uncovered by FITS (and subsequently reported on HEREHEREHEREHERE and HERE).

Working alongside S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson and other state entities, federal investigators acting under the authority of U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles have been looking into allegations of corruption at the S.C. State House for the past nine months (at least).  This investigation – which is expected to result in indictments prior to the end of the year – centers on three main areas.  Those 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 (scandals also broken exclusively here on FITS) are said to be part of “the probe …”

Another key focus?  Legislative political action committees like the Palmetto Leadership Council – which was affiliated with Harrell (and whose former executive director may be the “star witness” government prosecutors have been relying on to make their cases).

But who is being targeted?

“Chatter is all over the board,” one lawmaker told FITS.  “Trying to decipher.”

The names most frequently mentioned in association with the ongoing investigation are S.C. Reps. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, Bill Sandifer, Jenny Horne, Jimmy Merrill, Kenny Bingham and Brian White – although as we’ve stated all along it’s not immediately clear whether these individuals are being targeted by the probe or sought out for informational purposes.

There are also reports S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley – whose public corruption case was whitewashed by an ethically compromised jury of her former colleagues two years ago – may also be a target.

“She was the worst offender of pay to play,” one lawmaker told FITS, referring to Haley.

Indeed … Haley did far worse than Harrell and got away with it.  Specifically, the governor was accused of multiple abuses of power during her six years as a member of the S.C. House of Representatives from 2005-11.  For starters, she was accused of illegally lobbying on behalf of Lexington Medical Center, her former employer from 2008-10.  Haley was also accused of illegally lobbying on behalf of Wilbur Smith Associates – an engineering firm with extensive business before the state – and failing to report nearly $50,000 in income received from the company between 2007-09.

In fact FITS has spoken with several lawmakers who said they were willing to sign affidavits attesting to Haley’s illegal lobbying on behalf of her employers – but were never asked to do so by the S.C. House “Ethics” Committee.

Haley also has a political action committee working on her behalf –  “The Movement Fund.”  This group has run political ads on her behalf and also paid out big bucks to members of the governor’s campaign organization, which some are alleging is illegal campaign coordination.

Stay tuned …