Former South Carolina state representative Jimmy Merrill pleaded guilty to one count of misconduct in office in connection with the ongoing #ProbeGate investigation this week.
Merrill – appearing before S.C. circuit court judge Robert Hood – pleaded guilty to the charge as part of an agreement with prosecutors who are still pursing additional indictments related to this ongoing, multi-jurisdictional investigation into public corruption.
His attorneys asked for probation for the charge, which carried with it a one-year prison sentence.
They got what they asked for … although Merrill will have to hold up his end of the bargain if he expects to stay out of jail.
To wit: Twenty-nine additional charges against Merrill were placed on hold – pending his cooperation as a witness for the state. Should Merrill fail to cooperate with state or federal authorities during the course of the investigation, S.C. first circuit solicitor David Pascoe reserves the right to prosecute Merrill on all of the charges – which could carry more than six decades of jail time.
“They are holding it over his head,” one politico remarked.
Merrill also agreed to submit to polygraph examinations during his period of cooperation with state and federal investigators, an interesting component of his deal – which was reportedly reached yesterday just prior to his resignation from office.
New of Merrill’s decision to step down broke exclusively on this website, incidentally.
According to Pascoe, Merrill has already provided helpful information related to the case – information that has been corroborated by S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) agents. His cooperation began in late March – when he came to investigators before a plea deal was even on the table.
Hood cited Merrill’s willingness to cooperate with investigators early on in the process – and without a pending plea agreement – as one of the reasons he agreed to place him on probation as opposed to giving him jail time.
Merrill was accompanied during his appearance at the Richland County, S.C. judicial center by his wife, Noel Merrill, who appeared to be on the verge of tears at several moments during her husband’s hearing.
Her family has obviously been through a lot … and whatever we think of Merrill’s conduct as an elected official, we’re glad it’s about to be over for them.
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Eight-and-a-half months ago, Merrill was slapped with a thirty-count indictment alleging some damning pay-to-play activity and some dubious money transfers involving a company run by his brother, Denver Merrill.
He now joins former S.C. Speaker of the House Bobby Harrell as the second high-profile state’s witness in this probe – which was exclusively unearthed by this website back in September of 2014. Harrell resigned his office in October of 2014 after pleading guilty to six ethics violations and has been cooperating with prosecutors ever since.
Merrill was suspended from office immediately following his indictment. Prior to his resignation, he had represented S.C. House District 99 (map) in the S.C. General Assembly since 2001. The district incorporates parts of Charleston and Berkeley counties.
A special election will be held on January 16 to fill the expired portion of Merrill’s term. Two candidates – Daniel Island attorney Shawn Pinkston (story here) and Mount Pleasant, S.C. undertaker and town councilman Mark M. Smith (story here) – have already announced their intentions to file for the seat.
Others are likely to jump into the fray …
In a preview of that race published two weeks ago, we hinted that a plea deal could be in the works for Merrill.
“Over the past few weeks, speculation has been swirling that Merrill is on the verge of reaching a plea agreement with prosecutors to ensure his cooperation in connection with the ongoing investigation,” we reported.
After his indictment, Merrill all but vanished from the statewide stage. Sources close to the suspended lawmaker told us he rarely left his Daniel Island home and had become “deeply depressed.” He was also shunned by many of his former political allies – including supporters of U.S. president Donald Trump, whose 2016 “First in the South” presidential primary campaign Merrill helped lead to a resounding victory.
As we reported earlier this week, sources close to this ongoing investigation tell us Merrill’s cooperation could provide Pascoe and his fellow prosecutors with a treasure trove of new information related to the political empire of veteran “Republican” political consultant Richard Quinn, whose advocacy on behalf of a host of political and corporate clients appears to be at the heart of this investigation.
What sort of information could Merrill conceivably provide?
“Only the inner workings of their business,” one source close to the probe told us. “How they got clients, how they lobbied for clients, etc.”
Exclusively uncovered by this website back in 2014, #ProbeGate has produced indictments against Harrell, Merrill, State Senator John Courson and state representative Rick Quinn (the son of Richard Quinn).
Additional indictments are expected in the case … especially now that it’s clear Merrill has been assisting the investigation for some time.
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