Harrell: State Grand Jury Investigation Over; Wilson Off Case

August 16, 2014

Investigative Reports

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Bobby HarrellHouse Speaker Bobby Harrell announced this morning the state grand jury investigation of him has ended, and that S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson is off the case, Bart Daniel, one of Harrell’s attorneys, confirmed to The Nerve.

“Right – he issued a statement,” Daniel said, though he declined to say whether Wilson voluntarily removed himself from the case or was ordered by a judge to do so.

“I’m not answering any more questions,” the Charleston attorney said.

The House Republican Caucus is meeting this weekend at a retreat in Myrtle Beach. A legislative source told The Nerve earlier this week that Harrell, a Charleston Republican, was planning to make a “big announcement” at the retreat.

Contacted by The Nerve this morning, Mark Powell, Wilson’s spokesman, would not confirm whether the grand jury investigation has ended or whether Wilson was no longer involved with the case.

“We are unable to comment because the Supreme Court order directs that we are not to disclose these matters,” Powell said.

The S.C. Supreme Court on July 9 ruled that Wilson, a Republican, could continue the grand jury investigation of Harrell and didn’t need permission from the House Ethics Committee to do so.

But the five justices sent the case back to the circuit court to determine whether Wilson should be disqualified from participating. Harrell earlier this year asked Richland County Circuit Judge Casey Manning, the administrative judge over the grand jury investigation, to remove Wilson from the case, claiming Wilson had threatened his chief of staff in a private meeting last year. Wilson denied it, and Manning didn’t immediately rule on the matter.

It was not known this morning whether Manning issued a ruling on the disqualification issue. The high court in a footnote in its July 9 ruling said any future arguments in the lower court “regarding jurisdiction or any other ancillary matter” should be held in private because of the “secrecy afforded state grand jury proceedings.”

A legislative source who asked not to be identified told The Nerve that Harrell this morning informed the House caucus that the grand jury investigation had “expired” on June 30 but that he didn’t find out about it until July 29. Harrell later said he found out about the status of the investigation “accidentally” when Democratic 1st Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe, whose district includes Orangeburg, Calhoun and Dorchester counties, contacted one of his attorneys to talk about the case, which had been assigned to Pascoe, according to the source.

Efforts today by The Nerve to reach Pascoe have been unsuccessful.

The South Carolina Policy Council – The Nerve’s parent organization – in February 2013 filed a public-corruption complaint against Harrell with Wilson, who turned it over to the State Law Enforcement Division. After a 10-month investigation, SLED turned its report over to Wilson, who announced in January that it had been referred to the state grand jury for further investigation.

After two public court hearings in March and May, Manning on May 12 ordered that the grand jury investigation be halted, ruling that the case should have been referred first to the House Ethics Committee, which can’t investigate criminal allegations. The Supreme Court, though, allowed the grand jury investigation to continue pending Wilson’s appeal to the high court.

Ashley Landess, the Policy Council president, has publicly said she didn’t refer the complaint to the House Ethics Committee because of inherent conflicts of interest. One of the main problems, Landess has said, is that because the House speaker has ultimate authority over all House employees, the House Ethics Committee staff could not be objective in investigating allegations against Harrell, much of which involved his use of campaign funds.

Harrell, the House speaker since 2005 and who was first elected to the House in 1992, has repeatedly denied publicly doing anything wrong, and he has not been charged with any criminal or administrative violations.

The Nerve will update this story as developments warrant.

Reach Brundrett at (803) 254-4411 or rick@thenerve.org. Follow him on Twitter @thenerve_rick. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and Twitter @thenervesc.