When former Columbia city employee Faye Goodson was sentenced in 2000 for orchestrating what was described as the biggest scam in recent city history, then-Assistant 5thCircuit Solicitor David Pascoe told the judge, “I think it’s obvious when you look at what she got away with, that she had way too much authority.”
One of the usual aspects of the overtime-payment scheme in the city’s wastewater maintenance division was that Goodson and eight co-defendants who also pleaded guilty were charged after a state grand jury investigation. Typically, relatively simple public-corruption cases are handled through county grand juries, which don’t have the investigative powers of the state grand jury.
But the Goodson case was far more complicated, authorities said, necessitating the use of the state grand jury. The prosecution in that case was handled jointly by the state Attorney General’s and 5th Circuit Solicitor’s offices.
Fourteen years later, Pascoe, now the 1st Circuit solicitor in charge of prosecuting criminal cases in Orangeburg, Calhoun and Dorchester counties, might have another shot at participating in a state grand jury investigation – this time involving a much more high-profile public official.
In a surprise announcement Saturday, S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell – arguably the state’s most powerful lawmaker – said the state grand jury investigation of him had ended, and that S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson had – for still unexplained reasons – handed over the case to Pascoe.
Pascoe, who was elected the 1st Circuit solicitor in 2004, declined comment when contacted this week byThe Nerve. Wilson spokesman Mark Powell also declined comment, referring The Nerve to his previous prepared statement that his office could not comment because of a secrecy provision in a July 9 ruling on the case by the S.C. Supreme Court.
Two former prosecutors who’ve had direct experience with the state grand jury told The Nerve this week that under state law, the attorney general can designate a local solicitor to handle a state grand jury case.
“It’s the same at the federal level,” said Columbia attorney Jon Ozmint, the former state corrections director who previously headed the state grand jury under then-Attorney General Charlie Condon. “The U.S. attorney or U.S. attorney general can swear in a local solicitor for purposes of a federal grand jury.”
Once legally appointed as a special assistant state attorney general, a solicitor can “stand in the shoes of the attorney general,” Ozmint said.
Under state law (Section 14-7-1650 (A) of the S.C. Code of Laws), the S.C. attorney general or “his designee shall attend sessions of a state grand jury and shall serve as its legal advisor.”
Johnny Gasser, a former longtime 5th Circuit deputy solicitor in Columbia who later served in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Columbia, including tenures as the acting and interim U.S. attorney for the state, before entering private practice, told The Nerve that Pascoe could request that besides himself, other staff members in his office be designated by Wilson and sworn in by the state grand jury’s administrative judge to participate in a grand jury investigation of Harrell.
“I’ve actually gone through the process,” the Columbia attorney said. “I’ve questioned witnesses before the state grand jury.”
Gasser is not involved with the Harrell investigation and said he has no knowledge of details of the probe. But he noted that he worked with Pascoe for many years while in the 5th Circuit Solicitor’s Office, adding, “He and I worked on multiple complex criminal investigations, and he is very, very thorough.”
If given the authority to oversee a state grand jury investigation of Harrell, Pascoe would have access to the existing grand jury case file, including any testimony of witnesses or documents subpoenaed by jurors, as well as the State Law Enforcement Division report on its investigation, Gasser said.
“The state grand jury is more effective with complex investigations,” he explained. “It is an extremely effective tool to get to the bottom of the truth.”
Unlike county grand juries, the state grand jury has the power to subpoena both witnesses and documents, and testimony is taken under oath and recorded by a court reporter, which means witnesses who lie during their testimony can be prosecuted for perjury.
Harrell, R-Charleston, told a group of fellow GOP House members in a closed-door meeting Saturday in Myrtle Beach that in his case, the state grand jury “expired on June 30. … It just ended,” according to an audio recording of his remarks obtained by The Nerve, as reported in a story Monday.
“The grand jury investigation has ended, and nothing came from it,” Harrell said.
Harrell’s case was referred to the state grand jury on Jan. 13, according to court documents provided earlier to The Nerve by the grand jury clerk. If Harrell’s statement Saturday that the grand jury’s investigation ended on June 30 is accurate, that would mean the grand jury had the case less than six months.
Under S.C. law, state grand juries are appointed to serve one-year terms, with six-month extensions allowed so long as the total term doesn’t exceed two years. The law (Section 14-7-1630 (F) of the S.C. Code of Laws) allows the administrative judge of the grand jury to “discharge a state grand jury prior to the end of its original term or an extension of the term, upon a determination that its business has been completed or upon the request of the Attorney General.”
It is not known whether Wilson voluntarily removed himself from Harrell’s case, or whether he was ordered by a judge to do so. Harrell earlier this year asked Richland County Circuit Judge Casey Manning, the administrative judge in his state grand jury case, to disqualify Wilson, contending that Wilson had threatened his chief of staff last year during a private meeting about proposed ethics legislation. Wilson denied the allegations, and Manning didn’t immediately rule on the motion, though the Supreme Court in its July 9 ruling sent that matter back to Manning for a determination.
Wilson, a Republican, so far has declined to confirm whether he is off the case, and, if true, whether it was done voluntarily; or whether he appointed Pascoe, a Democrat, to handle the investigation.
If the state grand jury impaneled by Manning to hear Harrell’s case has been disbanded, Pascoe, assuming he was appointed to take Wilson’s place, could decide to seek a new state grand jury, Gasser said. Regardless of whether the state grand jury is the original one, Pascoe also could ask the administrative judge to issue an order to release evidence to share with Harrell’s attorneys as part of a possible plea deal, he said, adding that without such an order, the evidence would have to be kept secret from Harrell unless he is indicted.
“He has some options,” Gasser said.
Reach Brundrett at (803) 254-4411 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @thenerve_rick. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and Twitter @thenervesc.