The only state lawmaker sentenced to prison in connection with a sprawling anti-corruption investigation isn’t going to prison after all … at least not yet.
No really … we’re not kidding.
Former state representative Jim Harrison – convicted on perjury and misconduct in office charges last month and sentenced to eighteen months in prison – was granted a $250,000 appeal bond that will allow him to remain free while he fights his conviction.
That’s right … more than four years into an expansive investigation of pay-to-play activity at the highest levels of state government, not one target of the investigation has spent a single day behind bars.
The bond was granted by S.C. circuit court judge Carmen Mullen – who invited a similar controversy earlier this year when she refused to sentence another former state lawmaker to jail time in the aftermath of a controversial plea agreement. Once again, Mullen issued her ruling over the objections of the special prosecutor in the case, S.C. first circuit solicitor David Pascoe.
Pascoe and Mullen have sparred repeatedly during the prosecutions related to #ProbeGate – a four-year-old inquiry that has led to the resignations of multiple Republican lawmakers, most of them affiliated with the political consulting firm of veteran GOP strategist Richard Quinn.
Her benevolence came in just in the nick of time for Harrison, who was scheduled to report to prison on Friday.
News of the ruling – first reported by Andy Shain of The (Charleston, S.C.) Post and Courier – is likely to stoke similar outrage to Mullen’s ruling back in February granting probation to former state lawmaker Rick Quinn, the son of the influential consultant.
That decision is currently under appeal …
Pascoe had argued that the 52-year-old powerbroker should serve a full year behind bars for his role in #ProbeGate. According to the prosecutor, Quinn was “the most corrupt lawmaker” in Columbia, S.C. – a key cog in an elaborate pay-to-play network.
“I ask that he serve every day of that (sentence),” Pascoe urged Mullen, saying that the court needed to “send a message” to other corrupt lawmakers.
She declined to send a message then … and she has declined to do so again now.
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Harrison, 67, represented S.C. House District 75 (map) in Richland County from 1989 until his resignation following the 2012 elections. When he stepped down, he was chairman of the powerful House judiciary committee – which handles most of the legislation that makes its way through the Republican-controlled chamber. In December 2012, he was selected by his former colleagues to serve as code commissioner and director of the S.C. Legislative Council, a thirty-person office which is responsible for researching and drafting bills for members of the S.C. General Assembly.
During his tenure in the legislature, Harrison received more than $900,000 in undisclosed income from Quinn’s political consulting firm – claiming after-the-fact that this money was for “political work.” No such work could be uncovered, though, and as Pascoe repeatedly pointed out Harrison “sponsored, co-sponsored and voted on legislation that favored clients of (Quinn)” while he was receiving his “secret salary.”
Not only that, emails unearthed during last month’s trial revealed that when some of these corporate accounts dried up – Harrison was forced to take a reduction in pay.
This news outlet made it clear that while we did not wish to see Harrison behind bars, “he rolled the dice at trial … and lost. Which means he now must turn to face the music.”
From our post …
It gives us no pleasure to see Harrison in this situation … but this is the definitional “end of the line.” There is simply no other way, especially not after so many targets of this investigation were allowed to get off so easily. Furthermore, granting him an “appeal bond” in this situation would set a terrible precedent.
Terrible, indeed …
Frankly, we see no justification whatsoever for Mullen’s decision. None.
Back in March, this news outlet argued Mullen should have recused herself from handling any further #ProbeGate-related matters. We didn’t necessarily think she did anything wrong (in fact this news site has written favorably about her in the past), we just felt her ability to call balls and strikes related to this matter had been compromised by virtue of her vitriolic, high-profile spat with the special prosecutor.
Now we are truly questioning whether something deeper was … or is … at play.
What do you think? Should Harrison have been allowed to remain free while his conviction is under appeal? Vote in our poll and post your thoughts in our comments section below …[poll id=”103″]
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