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#ProbeGate: Bizarre Hearing Explores SLED Raid

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PROSECUTOR STAYS … FOR NOW

When it comes to sudden twists and turns, the ongoing criminal investigation into public corruption within South Carolina state government continues to be a whiplash-inducing endeavor.

The latest unexpected development in the #ProbeGate saga?  A high-profile hearing on Tuesday that was supposed to address whether S.C. first circuit solicitor David Pascoe should continue leading this ongoing investigation – which was unearthed by this website way back in September of 2014.

As we exclusively reported last week, several of those under the gun in this case want Pascoe removed from the probe, arguing he has been acting out of a politically motivated bias.  Specifically, they say Pascoe is attempting to use the investigation as a platform to run for attorney general of South Carolina against “Republican” incumbent Alan Wilson.

Pascoe – who survived a high-profile attempt to remove him from this probe last spring – has been accused by S.C. Rep. Rick Quinn of targeting him and his father, veteran “Republican” political consultant Richard Quinn, because of their connections to Wilson.

The younger Quinn was indicted on two counts of misconduct in office last week – accused by Pascoe of failing to report more than $4.5 million worth of payments received from a host of special interests between January 1999 and April of this year.  He is also accused of steering more than $270,000 in S.C. House “Republican” Caucus funds toward his father’s consulting firm, Richard Quinn and Associates.

The elder Quinn has yet to be indicted, but two months ago he was named in a three-count indictment of S.C. Senator John Courson – who stands accused of routing nearly a quarter of a million dollars from his campaign account to Quinn’s firm, which then paid him $130,000.

“My family and I have been targeted by Mr. Pascoe because of a political feud between the Republican attorney general and a partisan Democrat who wants to be the attorney general,” Rick Quinn said in responding to the indictments.  “Since 2010, Mr. Pascoe has twice started campaigns to run against the attorney general.  It is my belief that this public fight between them is the real motivation since I have worked for the attorney general’s past political campaigns.”

Quinn was arraigned on Tuesday on his charges, but it was a subsequent hearing on a motion to disqualify Pascoe from the case that attracted a horde of reporters and political observers to the courtroom.

(Click to view)

(Via FITSNews.com)

This hearing, however, failed to address any alleged biases on Pascoe’s part.  Nor did it include any evidence – or even any assertion – that the Democratic prosecutor has acted improperly in connection with the case.

Instead, four attorneys – three representing Rick Quinn and one representing his father – spent hours grilling agents of the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) regarding a March raid of one of their Columbia, S.C. offices.

That raid executed a search warrant issued by the grand jury in the anti-corruption case.

As we noted in our original coverage of this hearing, Quinn attorneys Greg Harris, Johnny Gasser, Mark Richardson and Deborah Barbier repeatedly grilled SLED captain Richard Gregory and his agents extensively over the procedures they used in connection with this raid.

Specifically, they argued as to whether proper “taint procedures” had been employed by SLED in the execution of the search warrant.  “Taint procedures” are used by investigators to ensure attorney-client privileged material is not collected by agents during the execution of such warrants – which could conceivably lead to a violation of a defendant’s sixth amendment rights.

In some of her questioning of the agents, Barbier also delved into chain of custody issues associated with the raid.

Pascoe repeatedly objected to the questioning, arguing that the Quinn attorneys were engaged in a “fishing expedition” – one that had no relevance whatsoever to the question of whether he was fit to continue leading the investigation.

Pascoe told S.C. circuit court judge Knox McMahon that such questioning was “unprecedented” – and that if Quinn or his attorneys had issues regarding how evidence was collected they should seek to have it excluded when the case went to trial.  He also repeatedly pointed out in his cross-examination of the SLED agents that he has yet to see any of the disputed evidence.

McMahon repeatedly overruled Pascoe, though, allowing the questioning to continue.

“He’s going to be very careful,” one veteran attorney told us. “No judge wants to have their opinions in cases like this overturned.”

Did the long leash McMahon gave the Quinns’ attorneys make any difference?

Yes …

During one break in the day-long proceedings, John Crangle of Common Cause stood in front of a bank of television cameras and said he believed SLED executed a “sloppy raid.”

Ultimately, McMahon declined to issue a ruling on the question of Pascoe’s status.  Instead, he instructed both sides to submit written arguments to him addressing that question during the first week of June.

#ProbeGate has already brought down powerful former S.C. Speaker of the House Bobby Harrell, who resigned from his influential position in October 2014 after pleading guilty to six ethics charges.  Harrell has since turned state’s evidence, and is cooperating with investigators.

Incidentally, it was Harrell’s refusal to appoint the younger Quinn to an influential legislative committee post that is said to have served as the impetus for this entire drama.  However, those who sought to oust the powerful GOP leader – and who were ultimately successful in doing so – soon found themselves badly exposed.

The hunters became the hunted, in other words.

Last December, former S.C. House majority leader Jimmy Merrill – a Quinn ally – was suspended from office after being hit with a thirty-count indictment alleging an assortment of pay-to-play schemes.  Then Courson and Quinn were indicted.

Who will be next?

Stay tuned …

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