Solicitor: Harrell Can’t Use Campaign Funds for Restitution

July 27, 2015

Investigative Reports

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Bobby HarrellA payment by ex-House Speaker Bobby Harrell, after he pleaded guilty in October to misspending campaign funds, from his campaign account to the state probation agency will not be credited toward his court-ordered restitution, the special prosecutor overseeing the case told The Nerve on Friday.

First Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe of Orangeburg said based on two recent conversations he had with Jerry Adger, director of the S.C. Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon (PPP) Services, Harrell and his Charleston attorney, Bart Daniel, were informed that a $3,517 payment from Harrell’s campaign account on Oct. 31 – eight days after he pleaded guilty to misspending $93,958 from the same account – cannot be used to pay off $93,958 owed to the state’s general fund, per the terms of his plea deal.

Instead, the $3,517 will be considered the forfeiture of the balance of his campaign account to the general fund, as required separately under the plea deal, Pascoe said. That means Harrell will have to pay the full court-ordered restitution without using any campaign funds, he said.

“As long as PPP and Mr. Harrell get it straightened out, there’s not going to be any probation violation,” Pascoe said, adding he has no evidence that Harrell intentionally violated his plea deal.

The Nerve first reported about the issue in June. Earlier this month, Adger told The Nerve he met with Assistant SLED Chief Benjamin Thomas and another SLED agent and asked them to review the matter.

Neither Harrell, a Charleston Republican who was first elected to the House in 1992 and became House speaker in 2005, nor Daniel, who represented Harrell in his criminal case, responded to phone messages last week from The Nerve seeking comment.

The Nerve on Friday asked PPP spokesman Pete O’Boyle to confirm the information provided by Pascoe. O’Boyle initially didn’t directly answer those questions, but instead said in a written response, “We require all persons on supervision to pay with cashier’s checks or money orders and did not know the source of the funds Mr. Harrell used to pay his restitution.”

In a follow-up email, O’Boyle said, “The solicitor is telling us that no probation violation has occurred and anything further should come from the solicitor.”

As of June 9, Harrell, who runs an insurance agency, had paid a total of $16,250.01, including the $3,517.01 payment on Oct. 31, toward his court-ordered $93,958 restitution, plus $4,074.08 toward court fines totaling $30,297.48, O’Boyle said in a June written response.

In a related matter, Pascoe on Friday said an investigation remains open stemming from Harrell’s requirement under the plea deal to be an informant for state and federal authorities, though he declined to discuss specifics. He also called for the public release of the entire SLED file on Harrell’s case, though he declined to elaborate further on that issue.

The Nerve in June reported that despite Harrell’s agreement to be an informant, no one else has been criminally charged – either at the state or federal level – based on information Harrell might have provided to authorities.

Contacted Friday, SLED spokesman Thom Berry told The Nerve, “As far as we’re concerned, the case file is still open,” though he declined to discuss specifics.

He also rejected Pascoe’s call to release Harrell’s entire case file, noting that SLED wouldn’t do so while the investigation remains open, and that parts of the file were released to the media, including The Nerve, after Harrell’s plea.

Asked Friday to comment on Pascoe’s statements, Mark Powell, spokesman for S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson, who transferred Harrell’s case to Pascoe, told The Nerve that Pascoe is the “appropriate person to comment on the status of this investigation,” and that the Attorney General’s Office “defers to the decision of Solicitor Pascoe and SLED on releasing the remainder of the report.”

John Crangle, attorney-director of the government watchdog organization Common Cause of South Carolina, praised Pascoe for his handling of the campaign-payment issue, telling The Nerve, “I think it has been properly resolved.”

As for Pascoe’s statements about releasing the full SLED file on Harrell, Crangle said it could be a strategy by the solicitor to jump-start further investigation.

“It’s possible there are some explosive things in the file that the public would demand more investigation,” he said.

As part of his plea deal, Harrell promised 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.”

Under his Oct. 23 written agreement, Harrell also agreed 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 Pascoe and Daniel, called for a six-year prison sentence suspended to three years’ probation and a $30,000 fine. Richland County Circuit Judge Casey Manning sentenced Harrell under those terms on Oct. 23; Harrell formally submitted his resignation the next day.

Harrell pleaded guilty to six misdemeanor counts of spending campaign funds for personal expenses in connection with the use of his private airplane. His plea and resignation stemmed from a public-corruption complaint filed in February 2013 with Wilson’s office by the South Carolina Policy Council –The Nerve’s parent organization.

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