Last week, we exclusively reported on the resignation of former South Carolina majority leader Jimmy Merrill from the S.C. House of Representatives.
The following day, the 50-year-old public relations executive from Daniel Island, S.C. pleaded guilty in open court to one count of misconduct in office related to #ProbeGate – an ongoing, multi-jurisdictional investigation into corruption in Palmetto State government. Merrill received one year of probation on this charge … not bad for a guy who walked into the courtroom facing thirty charges and more than six decades of jail time.
How did Merrill get off so easy? Simple: He turned state’s evidence.
Like former S.C. speaker of the House Bobby Harrell – who resigned his seat three years ago after pleading guilty to six ethics charges – Merrill signed a cooperation agreement with state and federal prosecutors agreeing to give them whatever information they wanted in connection with this ongoing investigation.
Oh, he also agreed to testify in open court against the targets of that investigation …
In fact, S.C. first circuit solicitor David Pascoe revealed last week that Merrill had been cooperating with the investigation for the past five months – a development that no doubt caused considerable consternation among #ProbeGate’s targets.
And potential targets …
“He has to have given Pascoe some good shit to have gotten off,” a source close to the investigation told us. “Think about it.”
We have been thinking about it … and that’s exact same conclusion we reached.
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 was in deep trouble … until March 31, anyway, when he began dropping dimes.
So … what dimes did Merrill drop? And more importantly, upon whom did he drop them?
The answers to those questions could determine who survives #ProbeGate – and who doesn’t.
“If there’s anyone who has the goods, it’s him,” a source close to the investigation told us. “I really believe things will come out (from Jimmy) that none of us even knew.”
Merrill is a seasoned political operative who got his start years ago with Richard Quinn, the veteran “Republican” consultant whose empire of corporate and political luminaries has found itself under the #ProbeGate microscope.
Quinn has yet to be charged with a crime in connection with the investigation, but his son Rick Quinn – another former majority leader – has been hit with a pair of misconduct in office charges. Meanwhile the elder Quinn was named in a three-count indictment of suspended South Carolina Senator John Courson. That indictment alleged that the 72-year-old lawmaker routed nearly a quarter of a million dollars from his campaign account to Quinn’s firm – which then allegedly funneled more than $130,000 of that cash back to him.
Merrill and the Quinns’ proximity to this investigation dates back to a December 2013 report prepared by agents of the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED). Most of that report dealt with allegations against Harrell, but toward its tail end several redacted pages addressed allegations against Merrill and the Quinns.
We reported exclusively on the contents of these redacted pages back in April of last year.
Since then, the Quinns and their corporate and political interests have become a clear focus of the ongoing probe – including a March 2017 raid on one of their headquarters (and the stepped up involvement of federal authorities in its aftermath).
It’s believed Merrill has been assisting prosecutors with information related to some of the evidence collected during that raid.
How much evidence is there?
A lot …
(Click to view)
Investigators have also collected tens of thousands of emails related to the ongoing investigation – which was exclusively unearthed by this website way back in September of 2014.
According to reporter Glenn Smith of The (Charleston, S.C.) Post and Courier, Merrill’s cooperation agreement gives Pascoe and his fellow prosecutors “a high-value insider with intimate knowledge of how money flows and deals are cut in South Carolina’s capital.”
Smith further stated that Merrill’s testimony “could prove to be a boon for Pascoe and his team, bolstering open cases and revealing new lines of inquiry.”
New lines of inquiry … and potentially new suspects.
Pascoe’s coup comes just two months after he survived the latest high-profile attempt to oust him from this case. Attorneys for the Quinns tried to argue that the Democratic prosecutor had improperly obtained evidence and was acting out of political bias – but S.C. circuit court judge Knox McMahon ruled against them on every count.
Last summer, Pascoe survived an ever higher-profile attempt by S.C. attorney general Alan Wilson – an ally of the Quinns – to remove him from the case.
Wilson blocked Pascoe last March when the latter attempted to convene a grand jury for the purpose of indicting two Quinn lieutenants. Shortly thereafter, Wilson fired Pascoe and attempted to replace him with a different prosecutor (one who declined to take the job). His office then clumsy attempted to politicize the case – while Wilson himself angrily and baselessly attacked Pascoe’s integrity.
Pascoe took the case to the S.C. Supreme Court – and won.
Prior to the Merrill plea deal, the last big news related to the investigation was Pascoe’s questioning of several corporate chieftains before a statewide grand jury in Columbia, S.C. Like so many of the stories related to this investigation, that one also broke exclusively on this website.
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