September 3, 2014

Former Myrtle Beach legislator pleads not guilty to laundering charge

Former State Rep. Thad Viers speaks shortly before his resignation in March 2012 (Courtesy: SCETV)

Former State Rep. Thad Viers speaks shortly before his resignation in March 2012 (Courtesy: SCETV)

A former state legislator has pleaded not guilty to charges of money laundering and engaging in transactions using illegal proceeds.

Former State Rep. Thad Viers entered the plea during his arraignment in federal court Thursday. Prosecutors say the Myrtle Beach Republican helped a paving contractor who had defaulted on a $6 million road project.

An indictment unsealed earlier this month asserts that Viers helped the man hide his ownership in a marina and an investment firm when a bonding company sought to collect the debt. That contractor Marlon Weaver pleaded guilty to money laundering in 2013.

Viers was indicted on 12 counts of engaging in transactions using illegal proceeds, one count of money laundering, and another count of lying to an IRS agent. Prosecutors say Weaver backdated documents to make it appear he had transferred his interest in the marina and side business.

The indictment states Viers helped Weaver hide his financial assets by withdrawing $524,000 from his law firm’s trust account between February and October 2011. The indictment states Viers knew the money came from Weaver’s unlawful activities. Viers was also accused of working with a third man to help hide Weaver’s assets from September 2009 to October 2011.

According to the Associated Press, Viers’ attorney Pete Strom maintained that his client did not realize he was breaking the law. Strom told reporters outside the Florence courtroom Thursday that South Carolina’s two law schools do not properly teach law students about complex financial matters they could encounter.

Viers served in the state House of Representatives from 2003 until 2012. He resigned to face harassment charges and eventually pleaded guilty to second-degree harassment in January. He was sentenced to 60 days in prison (to be served on weekends) and a year of probation. Most of these new charges allegedly occurred while Viers was still in the House, although prosecutors say the charge of lying to an IRS agent stems from a March conversation.

Report: Coyote population may be “levelling off” in SC

Image: SCDNR

Image: SCDNR

Coyote sightings have become more much frequent in South Carolina in the past three decades, but state wildlife officials say the number appears to be leveling off.

The State newspaper reported Wednesday that the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources counted more than 30,000 coyotes killed by hunters last year. The agency notes that number has stayed between 28,000 and 32,000 each of the past five years after growing exponentially since the 1990s.

DNR staffers say coyotes have been in South Carolina since the 1970s, when they were brought in to help train hunting dogs. With no predators, they have since spread to every county in the state. The agency blaming them for 80 percent of deer fawn deaths. But the agency says the animals are likely here to stay.

State legislators eased hunting restrictions against coyotes, wild hogs, and armadillos in 2012. DNR has also been encouraging deer hunters to shoot coyotes they come across.

Ethics Commission rules Columbia mayor did not have to report Florida trip


Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin (File)

Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin (File)

The State Ethics Commission ruled Wednesday that Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin did not have to report a Florida trip he took with his former business partner who was later convicted on corruption charges.

During their meeting Wednesday, ethics commissioners unanimously agreed with arguments from Benjamin’s attorney that the 2010 trip was not part of the mayor’s job — but was instead related to his friendship and business dealings with disgraced ex-SC State University trustee Jonathan Pinson. A jury found Pinson guilty last month on 29 counts, including racketeering and theft of government funds.

During Pinson’s trial, federal prosecutors revealed a trip to Orlando that Pinson had taken with Mayor Benjamin in December 2010. That trip was purportedly to meet with Florida developer Richard Zahn, who was in negotiations with Pinson at the time to sell 120 acres of land to S.C. State (Zahn pleaded guilty last year to wire fraud after prosecutors said he agreed to pay kickbacks to Pinson and other S.C. State employees as part of the deal).

Ethics Commission staff began questioning the trip after it was revealed Zahn paid for the flight, a limo, dinner, and a trip to a strip club. State law requires an elected official to disclose any gifts they receive if the gift was believed to be given because of the official’s position or in hopes of seeking a contractual, business, or financial relationship with the city. Benjamin did not list the items on his Statement of Economic Interest.

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SC Supreme Court: Man entitled to workers comp for kickball injury


SC Supreme Court (File)

SC Supreme Court (File)

The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a marketing employee was entitled to workers compensation after injuring himself during a Greenville company’s kickball game.

In a 3-2 ruling, the justices determined Stephen Whigham’s injury was covered under workers comp laws because he had organized the game as part of his job. Whigham worked for the Greenville office of Jackson Dawson Communications, a marketing/public relations firm. According to court testimony, he came up with the idea of a kickball game as a team-building exercise for employees. During the game, Whigham shattered two bones in his leg while trying to avoid being tagged out.

He underwent two surgeries and told the court he will ultimately need a knee replacement. He had appealed after the Workers Compensation Commission ruled in 2012 that the injury did not arise out of or in the course of Whigham’s employment because his participation was not required.

However the majority sided with Whigham, saying he was “impliedly required” to attend an event he had organized for his coworkers.

“Whigham’s participation was expected rather than voluntary,” Justice Kay Hearn wrote for the majority. “This fact sets Whigham’s participation apart from that of all the other employees. It is undisputed that Whigham felt compelled to go and his boss would have considered it a dereliction of duty to miss it.”

The dissenting judges argued that, while Whigham’s attendance may have been expected at the kickball game, that did not require him to participate.

“Attending the event and participating in the kickball game are entirely different things,” Justice John Kittredge wrote.

The Workers Compensation Commission

will now hold another hearing at a later date to determine how much Whigham should be paid for his injury.

SC House returns for one-day session

SC House of Representatives (FILE)

SC House of Representatives (FILE)

The South Carolina House of Representatives will return to Columbia for one afternoon Wednesday as they consider whether or not to override two of Gov. Nikki Haley’s vetoes.

Haley issued the vetoes just before the regular session ended in June for a bill that would make it a misdemeanor for repeated disruptors to enter a library and local legislation that raises the property tax cap on residents of Murrells Inlet and Surfside Beach to pay for fire control. While the Senate easily overrode both vetoes, the House never took them up before leaving for the year.

It will take a two-thirds majority to override the governor.

House Speaker Bobby Harrell decided to call the chamber in for the one-day session after saying a consensus was reached at a legislative retreat a few weeks ago.

Legislators are also holding a few study committee meetings Wednesday on expungement and school safety.

House members each receive $176 to cover meals and lodging for the day, plus mileage reimbursement.