No New Criminal Cases Emerge after Harrell Plea Deal

June 8, 2015

Investigative Reports

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SC House ChamberWhen ex-S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell pleaded guilty in October to six counts of using campaign funds for personal expenses, his sentence was relatively light: three years’ probation.

As part of his written plea agreement, Harrell – arguably was the state’s most powerful lawmaker before his downfall – agreed to be an informant for state and federal authorities, promising he would be “fully truthful and forthright with the attorneys and investigators for the Solicitor and the (U.S.) Government in thorough and complete debriefings of the Defendant’s knowledge concerning unlawful activities should the Solicitor or the Government seek his cooperation.”

But more than seven months after Harrell’s plea and resignation from office, no one else has been criminally charged – either at the state or federal level – based on information Harrell might have provided to authorities.

The Nerve last Tuesday asked Harrell, a Charleston Republican who was first elected to the House in 1992 and became House speaker in 2005, whether he has met with any authorities since his sentence pursuant to his plea agreement. But Harrell, who runs an insurance agency, was in no mood then to discuss his case.

“I don’t have time to talk with you right now,” he quickly responded. “I’m with somebody right now, but you can call me back later if you like.”

The Nerve called Harrell again later Tuesday and left a message seeking comment but received no follow-up response.

Contacted last week, 1st Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe of Orangeburg, the special prosecutor assigned to Harrell’s case and who agreed to the plea deal, told The Nerve that “nothing’s been shut down,” though he declined to answer any further questions.

Mark Powell, spokesman for S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson, who transferred Harrell’s case last summer to Pascoe, and Bill Nettles, the U.S. attorney for South Carolina, declined to say whether their respective offices were conducting follow-up investigations.

“It is a policy of our office not to comment on any investigation that may or may not be going on,” Powell said.

Said Nettles, “I can’t comment on the existence or non-existence of an investigation.”

The Nerve last week sent written questions to the State Law Enforcement Division, which conducted a 10-month investigation of Harrell following a corruption complaint filed in February 2013 with Wilson by the South Carolina Policy Council, The Nerve’s parent organization. The Nerve asked SLED spokesman Thom Berry whether SLED agents have met with Harrell since his plea, and if so, how many times and whether there are any ongoing investigations based on information Harrell might have provided as part of his plea deal.

Berry didn’t respond.

Efforts by The Nerve to reach Charleston attorney Bart Daniel, a former U.S. attorney for South Carolina who represented Harrell in his criminal case, were unsuccessful.

Contacted last week, John Crangle, attorney-director of the government watchdog organization Common Cause of South Carolina, said he and others thought there would be more indictments after the first of the year, based on the requirement by Harrell as part of his plea deal to cooperate with authorities.

“The expectation was that there was going to be a sequel, and there hasn’t been a sequel,” Crangle told The Nerve. “There hasn’t been an Act Two.”

“If there isn’t going to be anything else, then Harrell should have gotten time,” he added.

Richland County Circuit Judge Casey Manning on Oct. 23 gave Harrell a six-year prison sentence, though he suspended it to three years’ probation as specified in the plea agreement.

Crangle said he believes Harrell, former Lt. Gov. Ken Ard and ex-Sen. Robert Ford all “got off easy”  for their crimes. Ard, a Florence County Republican, resigned his seat and received five years’ probation in 2012 after pleading guilty to seven counts of unlawful reimbursement of campaign contributions, false filing of campaign reports and personal use of campaign funds. Ford, D-Charleston, resigned his longtime seat in 2013 and received five years’ probation last month after pleading guilty in January to four counts of forgery, misconduct in office and false reporting involving his campaign account.

“The problem started with the Ard case,” Crangle said. “That was the precedent. That really derailed the train.”

Harrell, who previously had repeatedly maintained his innocence, pleaded guilty in October to five misdemeanor counts involving campaign reimbursements related to the use of his private airplane, including, according to Richland County grand jury indictments, four “non-existent” trips between Charleston and Columbia in 2009, and a 2009 personal trip to Florida to attend a high school baseball tournament.

He also pleaded guilty to a sixth misdemeanor count of reimbursing himself a total of $93,958 from his campaign account from Jan. 1, 2009, through Jan. 10, 2013, related to the use of his private plane – expenses that were “neither related to his campaign nor his office in the House of Representatives of the State of South Carolina,” according to one of the indictments. He was ordered to repay the $93,958 to the state’s general fund, which would be considered reimbursement to his campaign account, plus pay an additional $30,000 fine.

As part of the plea deal, four other charges against Harrell – two counts of misconduct in office, one count of using campaign funds for personal expenses, and one count of false reporting – will be dismissed after three years from the date of his guilty plea “provided the Defendant has fully complied with all of the terms of this agreement.” The most serious charge – common-law misconduct in office – carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence.

Any “self-incriminating information” provided by Harrell through his cooperation with authorities could not be used against him under the plea agreement unless there were a “breach of the cooperation provisions.”

The plea deal requires Harrell to “fully disclose and provide truthful information to the Solicitor and the (U.S.) Government including any books, papers, documents, records, electronic materials or any other items of evidentiary value to the investigation.”

It also requires Harrell to “testify fully and truthfully at any trials or other proceedings if called upon to do so by the Solicitor or the Government, subject to prosecution for perjury for not testifying truthfully.”

The plea agreement contains three other “hammers” if Harrell doesn’t uphold his end of the deal:

  • Any suspended indictments may be “restored”;
  • Any additional charges “known to the Solicitor or the Government may be filed in the appropriate jurisdiction”; and
  • The “Solicitor or the Government may use any and all information and testimony provided by the Defendant in the prosecution of the Defendant of all charges.”

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