Prior to reporting on this news outlet’s own court proceedings earlier this week, John Monk of The (Columbia, S.C.) State newspaper – along with his colleague Avery Wilks – broke a big story. It involves a plea deal involving a former member of the scandal-scarred South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) commission.
According to Monk and Wilks, former SCDOT commissioner John Hardee has agreed to plead guilty to a federal felony charge alleging he “took part in a cover-up by trying to destroy evidence in a criminal investigation.”
The charge could land him in jail for up to three years.
What sort of investigation are they referring to? That’s a good question …
The report raised more questions that it answered, and the muted response from both federal prosecutors and Hardee’s attorneys – including state senator Dick Harpootlian – stoked plenty of speculation.
Hardee, 71, is the son-in-law of arguably the most powerful politician in the Palmetto State – senate finance chairman Hugh Leatherman. His two terms on this hugely influential panel – first from 1998 to 2007 and then again from 2014 to 2018 – were the subject of extensive controversy. Not only was Hardee dogged by obvious nepotism criticisms, but there have also been allegations that his company received preferential treatment on state contracts during his time as a commissioner.
Beyond that, the SCDOT commission was atrociously managed for years by Hardee and his cronies – with political considerations, not infrastructure priorities, dominating the panel’s decision-making. Sadly, lawmakers have continued to pump more money into this same failed structure while doing very little to enhance accountability when it comes to infrastructure spending.
The result? Terrible roads and bridges … at an ever-escalating price.
Funding for SCDOT in the current state budget – fiscal year 2018-2019 – amounted to $2.4 billion, which is up $273 million from the $2.13 billion appropriated in the 2017-2018 fiscal year. Prior to that, SCDOT’s base budget doubled in a span of just eight years – and that doesn’t include the huge borrowing bill and gas tax hike passed by lawmakers in 2016 and 2017, respectively.
Blowing through increasingly large stacks of taxpayer cash isn’t the only problem, though. We also believe the SCDOT commission was inherently corrupt – firing internal auditors for attempting to root out scandals and hiding the results of incriminating agency reports from the public.
And that’s before we address all of the self-dealing …
Of interest? Former SCDOT chairman Mike Wooten of Georgetown County, S.C. – who stepped down from this panel in June of 2017 – recently filed a libel suit against this news outlet in connection with our criticism of his tenure on the commission. We look forward to aggressively defending ourselves in connection with that action … and hopefully uncovering even more about this agency and its ongoing contempt for South Carolina citizens and taxpayers in the process.
In the meantime, Monk and Wilks’ report quoted one of Hardee’s attorneys – Jim Griffin – as saying the scandal their client is mixed up in has nothing do with his powerful father-in-law. Also, a source close to the case tells us there is no broader federal investigation of SCDOT.
Stay tuned. We will do some digging in connection with this report to see if there is any information related to the Hardee plea deal we can uncover.
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