BIG GAME IN THE CROSSHAIRS …
It’s hard to imagine it now, but the ongoing investigation into alleged corruption at the S.C. State House was never supposed to wind up here – which is to say, on the verge of taking down the very political empire that originally set its wheels into motion.
But that’s exactly where we are …
The hunters have become the hunted. And the prosecutor who is leading the investigation – S.C. first circuit solicitor David Pascoe – has drawn a fresh bead on his next target. And is preparing to pull the trigger.
How did we get here?
The joint-federal state probe exclusively unearthed by this website back in September of 2014 was a political operation masquerading as law enforcement. It was intended to do one thing and one thing only: Take out powerful S.C. Speaker of the House Bobby Harrell.
Which it did …
That task was accomplished in October of 2014, when Harrell resigned his influential office and pleaded guilty to six ethics violations centering around improper reimbursements made from his political account. Harrell’s fall from grace – which we applauded – was driven by S.C. policy council president Ashley Landess (who filed the initial complaint against the powerful GOP leader) and S.C. attorney general Alan Wilson (who doggedly pursued Harrell’s ethical lapses). Both Landess and Wilson are intimates of powerful neo-Confederate GOP consultant Richard Quinn, whose political empire stood to amass even more influence at the S.C. State House as a result of Harrell’s resignation.
Which of course would translate into more money for Quinn and his associates.
Clearing Harrell out of the way, they thought, marked the beginning of a controlled purge of anti-Quinn lawmakers – a series of selective prosecutions directed by a “crusading” attorney general who was being groomed by Quinn to become the next governor of South Carolina.
“This is a start,” Landess (below) told FITSNews at the time of Harrell’s indictment. “Frankly, our expectation is that there is more to come.”
(Click to view)
There was more to come, alright … plenty more …
Somewhere along the way, though, this carefully-calculated coup began unspooling – its plotters ensnared by their own misdeeds as they began to be sucked into an increasingly dangerous vortex of their own making.
They fought this shift at every step of the way, too.
A year ago, Pascoe was preparing to convene a grand jury for the purpose of handing down indictments – efforts which were supported by SLED chief Mark Keel and presiding circuit court judge Clifton Newman.
Without offering an explanation, though, Wilson barred Pascoe access to the grand jury. Then he fired him – and attempted to replace him with a different prosecutor (one who declined to take the job). Next, Wilson clumsy attempted to politicize the case – angrily (and baselessly) attacking Pascoe’s integrity without so much as a shred of evidence.
Pascoe took the case to the Supreme Court – and won.
Now he’s not only investigating alleged corruption in the legislative branch, he’s also apparently been doing some digging into what may have prompted Wilson to attempt such obstruction in his role as attorney general.
A key moment in this evolution of this probe? December 2013, when the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) submitted an investigative report detailing its findings in the Harrell case. This report – which basically amounted to a charging document against Harrell – also contained information on other allegedly dirty lawmakers.
The Harrell portions of this document have been made public, but the part of the SLED report detailing the alleged offenses of the other lawmakers has never been released. Sources familiar with its contents, however, told us its pages implicated S.C. Reps. Rick Quinn (the son of the powerful neo-Confederate consultant) and Jimmy Merrill in a variety of unethical and potentially illegal acts.
(Click to view)
Back in December, the hammer fell on Merrill (above). He was slapped with a detailed thirty-count indictment covering a wide range of alleged pay-to-play offenses – which, collectively, could land him in jail for more than six decades. The breadth and depth of the Merrill indictment – and the specter of additional charges to come against him – shook the S.C. State House to its very foundations. And with good reason.
(As of this writing, we can confirm Merrill has not followed Harrell’s lead and entered into a plea agreement).
But what’s coming next could be an even bigger, more seismic event.
According to our sources, Pascoe is preparing to present evidence before a grand jury detailing “the Quinns influence” over the South Carolina attorney general’s office.
And not just the current occupant of that office, either.
We’re also told that Wilson – ever the obstructionist – is “still trying to impede this (investigation) at every step of the way,” blocking access to the grand jury in open defiance of the S.C. Supreme Court’s order.
In fact Pascoe reportedly “had to go to a judge” to assert his rights under the law.
Finally, we’re told that the ongoing battle over the proper scope of Pascoe’s investigation is likely to be a non-issue. Apparently the solicitor is not pursuing any other subjects in the current probe beyond Merrill, Wilson and those related to the Quinns – although he reportedly “intends to make everything public (that’s been) discovered about the others and let the public do with it what they may.”
That would seem to confirm our prior reporting as to a “flurry” of feverish activity at the S.C. House ethics committee, a self-policing legislative panel which until recently was run by another longtime Quinn ally – former S.C. Rep. Kenny Bingham.
Unlike Bingham, the new chairman of this committee – S.C. Rep. Mike Pitts – seems determined to use this panel for its intended purpose, that of holding lawmakers accountable for their self-serving behavior. In fact we’re told Pitts – a former law enforcement officer – is eagerly awaiting the findings of Pascoe’s investigation so that his committee can begin initiating actions against those deemed to have run afoul of the state’s ethics laws.
Stay tuned …
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