Probation Director Meets with SLED on Harrell Plea Deal

July 8, 2015

Investigative Reports

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Law EnforcementThe head of South Carolina’s probation agency says he met with the State Law Enforcement Division’s assistant chief to discuss issues raised in last week’s Nerve story on former House Speaker Bobby Harrell’s plea deal.

Probation Director Jerry Adger told The Nerve on Monday he met with Assistant SLED Chief Benjamin Thomas and another SLED agent last week and asked them to review the matter.

“I’ve done what I think I’ve needed to do,” Adger said. “I guess I’ll just have to wait to get back to them.”

In a written response Monday to The Nerve, SLED spokesman Thom Berry confirmed last week’s meeting with Adger.

“We are reviewing the request but have not made a determination at this time,” Berry said, though he didn’t provide specifics about the review when asked and couldn’t say when it would be completed.

Neither Harrell, a Charleston Republican who had been the House speaker since 2005, nor Charleston attorney Bart Daniel, who represented Harrell in his criminal case, responded to email and phone messages Monday from The Nerve seeking comment.

Contacted Tuesday by The Nerve, John Crangle, executive director of the government watchdog organization Common Cause of South Carolina, said the state probation agency has a responsibility to monitor Harrell closely while the ex-speaker is on probation.

“It’s important that big shots take their castor oil,” Crangle said.

The Nerve reported in a June 29 story that on Oct. 31 – eight days after pleading guilty to misspending $93,958 from his campaign account – Harrell paid $3,517 from the account to the S.C. Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon (PPP) Services, campaign records show, which the agency said was credited toward his court-ordered $93,958 restitution.

As part of his Oct. 23 plea deal, Harrell agreed in writing to:

  • Forfeit the “entirety of his campaign account to the State of South Carolina’s General Fund”;
  • Pay an additional $93,958 to the general fund, which would be considered “reimbursement to his campaign account”;
  • Resign his House seat “immediately following his guilty plea”; and
  • Not “seek or hold public office for a three-year period from the date of his guilty plea.”

The plea agreement, which was signed by Daniel and 1st Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe of Orangeburg, the special prosecutor who handled Harrell’s case, also called for a six-year prison sentence suspended to three years’ probation and a $30,000 court fine.

Richland County Circuit Judge Casey Manning sentenced Harrell, who pleaded guilty to six misdemeanor counts of using campaign funds for personal expenses in connection with the use of his private plane, under the terms of the plea deal on Oct. 23. Harrell, who was first elected to the House in 1992, formally submitted his resignation the next day.

Harrell, who runs an insurance agency, had paid a total of $16,250.01, including the Oct. 31 $3,517.01 payment, as of June 9 toward his court-ordered $93,958 restitution; and $4,074.08 toward his court fine, PPP spokesman Pete O’Boyle told The Nerve last month.

Crangle, of Common Cause, told The Nerve for the June 29 story that he believes the plea agreement requires Harrell to pay the $93,958 restitution with non-campaign funds after forfeiting the balance of his campaign account to the state’s general fund.

Asked last month by The Nerve whether officials convicted of state ethics law could use their campaign funds to pay for court-ordered restitution or court fines, Herb Hayden, executive director of the State Ethics Commission, said although the commission hasn’t issued a formal opinion on the subject, his agency’s position has been that “such expenses are personal.”

The Nerve did not ask Hayden to comment specifically on Harrell’s case, and the Ethics Commission has no jurisdiction over state lawmakers. Under state law, that falls to the House and Senate Ethics committees.

The South Carolina Policy Council – The Nerve’s parent organization – has called for an end to lawmakers’ self-policing powers as part of its eight-part reform agenda released in May 2012. Harrell’s plea and resignation stemmed from a public corruption complaint filed by the Policy Council in February 2013 with S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson.

The Nerve last month asked PPP for specifics on Harrell’s probation, including the sources of all payments to the agency, how many times Harrell has met with his probation agent, and whether he has violated any terms of his probation. O’Boyle, the agency’s spokesman, declined to answer those questions, citing a state law that says information obtained by a probation agent while supervising an offender generally is confidential.

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