June 20, 2024

The Nerve Archive

Where Government Gets Exposed

Harrell Has First Court Appearance in Criminal Case; Released on PR Bond

Bobby HarrellSuspended S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell walked out of a Richland County courtroom this morning without having to put up any money for bail after being formally served with indictments charging him with using campaign funds for personal expenses and concealing unlawful campaign payments.

Circuit Judge John Hayes of York, a former state House member and senator who served in the General Assembly before Harrell was first elected in 1992, issued an $18,000 personal recognizance bond for Harrell, which doesn’t require him to put up any money up front, though he would be responsible for the amount if he skipped a future court date without permission.

Hayes also required that any future out-of-state travel by Harrell be approved either by 1st Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe of Orangeburg, who is prosecuting the case, or the judge who eventually will be assigned to handle Harrell’s trial, noting he hadn’t been assigned as the trial judge. Hayes did permit Harrell to attend the University of South Carolina football game on Saturday at the University of Kentucky.

The normally talkative Harrell, R-Charleston, was silent during the seven-minute court hearing – his first court appearance since being indicted by a Richland County grand jury on Sept. 10 – letting his attorney, Bart Daniel of Charleston, speak on behalf of him. Harrell and Daniel didn’t speak to a group of reporters afterward.

Harrell, who previously has said publicly that he didn’t break any state laws, waived his arraignment, which meant he didn’t formally enter a plea to the indictments, which Pascoe formally served on him during the hearing.

Waiving an arraignment is typical in non-capital cases in state courts, longtime criminal defense attorney Jack Swerling of Columbia, who isn’t involved in the Harrell case, told The Nerve afterward. Based on standard procedures, Harrell would have to be photographed and fingerprinted today, likely at the Richland County courthouse or county jail, Swerling said.

Swerling said it didn’t surprise him that Harrell received a personal recognizance bond, noting there is no evidence that he is a danger to the community or a flight risk. Pascoe during the hearing said he would have “no objection” to a personal recognizance bond, pointing out that Harrell has no prior record and isn’t a flight risk.

As for a trial date for Harrell, Swerling said, “I think we’re looking at some months away at least.” Pascoe didn’t mention a possible trial date during the hearing and declined comment on the matter when interviewed immediately beforehand by The Nerve.

Pascoe also declined comment when asked by The Nerve whether he would be willing to release an investigative report by the State Law Enforcement Division – something which Harrell previously had called for publicly, though he repeatedly declined reporters’ requests to release his own records in the case. During the hearing, Pascoe introduced SLED Lt. Kevin Baker, who is listed as a witness on the indictments.

Pascoe at the hearing handed some papers to Daniel, which Pascoe noted were discovery matters, though he didn’t give specifics about the contents. Pascoe said he and Daniel had “gone over much of the discovery for hours” after Harrell was indicted on Sept. 10, noting that he has turned over approximately 32,000 pages of discovery to Daniel.

Swerling said given that Harrell is indicted, he is entitled to the SLED report and any other reports “related to the case in possession of law enforcement or the solicitor.”

Daniel told Hayes that over the past year, he and Harrell had met with SLED agents for “hours and hours and hours,” adding, “Mr. Harrell was very cooperative.”

In his first public comments on how he was appointed to the case, Pascoe said S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson, who attended this morning’s hearing along with U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles, on July 24 asked him to serve as the “designated prosecutor” in Harrell’s case, though he didn’t reveal why Wilson made the request. Pascoe said  he accepted the request, noting that he and Tommy Scott, a deputy solicitor in his office, already had been sworn in by Richland County Circuit Judge Robert Hood, the chief administrative judge for the state grand jury, to “review state grand jury matters.”

On Aug. 29, Richland County Circuit Judge Casey Manning, the administrative judge assigned to Harrell’s state grand jury case, approved a formal consent agreement between Harrell and Wilson in which Harrell said he would drop an amended motion to disqualify Wilson from the case, while Wilson consented to transfer the case to Pascoe. That deal, which was first reported by The Nerve, was done in secret, though the day after Harrell was indicted, Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal issued an order on behalf of the court making the agreement public.

Manning’s Aug. 29 order noted that the term of the state grand jury investigating Harrell had ended, and that the matter had “not been transferred to the current state grand jury.”

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

Pascoe during this morning’s hearing cited the Aug. 29 agreement, adding that on Sept. 2, Manning approved his request to “take the case outside the statewide grand jury,’ and that a Richland County grand jury issued its indictments eight days later.

Harrell, who became the House speaker in 2005 and was first elected to the House in 1992, is charged with six misdemeanor counts under the state Ethics Act of use of campaign funds for personal expenses, two counts of misconduct in office and one misdemeanor count of false reporting under the Ethics Act.

The most serious charge is common law misconduct in office, which carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence, though it is not classified as a felony. The other charges carry maximum one-year prison sentences. State law requires the immediate suspension of a lawmaker without pay by the presiding officer of the respective chamber if the legislator is indicted in state or federal court with a felony, a criminal election-law violation, a crime of “moral turpitude,” or a crime carrying a sentence of two or more years.

Under the false reporting indictment, Harrell is accused of:

  • Converting $93,958.50 in campaign funds from 2009 through 2012 for his personal use for expenses of his privately owned airplane;
  • Reporting $96,381.46 in campaign expenditures for legislative travel during the same period “despite the fact that some of the travel expenditures were personal in nature,” and that some expenses were covered with payments from “other sources”;
  • Using $70,286.46 from his campaign account to pay the salary of an administrative assistant at his State Farm insurance business; and
  • Spending campaign money to “pay credit card debt and to pay for goods and services for his home, family and friends that were not for any purposes related to his campaign for or position in the South Carolina House of Representatives.”

The same count alleges that Harrell “concealed this unlawful payment scheme by various activities, including but not limited to”:

  • Changing and altering the entries in his pilot logbook;
  • Creating flight schedules to “justify payments from his campaign account, when in fact some of the listed flights did not occur or were personal and not related to any official or campaign purpose”;
  • Misinforming law enforcement officers about the “purposes and circumstances surrounding expenditures”; and
  • Misinforming the House Ethics Committee about “the reason he reimbursed his campaign account.”

Four of the indictments separately allege that Harrell paid himself out of his campaign account for four “non-existent” legislative trips between Charleston and Columbia in 2009. Another indictment alleges he paid himself $3,874.50 out of his campaign account for the use of his private plane for a personal trip in 2009 for himself, family and friends to a high school baseball tournament in Florida. He also is accused in another indictment of using campaign funds in 2012 to cover the salary of the administrative assistant at his insurance office.

The day after the indictments were issued, Harrell voluntarily suspended himself from office, as first reported by The Nerve, though acting House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington and the speaker pro tempore, issued Harrell a suspension letter later that day after the Attorney General’s Office issued a written opinion saying Lucas was required by law to suspend Harrell.

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

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