September 2, 2014

New SC law creates crime for library trespassing

Richland County Library in downtown Columbia

Richland County Library in downtown Columbia

South Carolina libraries will now have new methods to keep those they say are disruptive or a nuisance from entering the grounds.

State lawmakers last week overrode Gov. Nikki Haley’s veto of a bill that would make it a misdemeanor for a person to return to a library after being told in writing to stay away by library employees.

The state House of Representatives narrowly overrode the governor’s veto in a 75-36 vote last week (72 votes were needed under the state constitution’s two-thirds requirement). The House came back for a special one-day session, as they did not get the governor’s veto until after their regular session ended in June. Haley had opposed the measure, saying it could violate due process rights.

“(I)t grants library employees wide authority to deprive citizens of their ability to use public libraries for an indefinite amount of time based on mere allegations of misconduct,” the governor’s veto message stated. She instead encouraged county governments to pass individual laws on the local level.

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Two security guards killed at vacant textile plant identified

The Greenville County Coroner’s Office has now identified two men whose bodies were found outside a vacant Greenville County textile equipment plant early Friday morning.

The two were identified as 53-year-old Richard Ellison and 65-year-old Bobby Wood. Coroner Parks Evans said both men were security guards at the shuttered JD Hollingsworth on Wheels plant south of Greenville. Evans said both had multiple stab and gunshot wounds. Greenville County Sheriff’s deputies said they do not have any suspects at this time.

Deputies said a newspaper carrier spotted the bodies around 3:36 a.m. Friday and called 911.

The 60-acre Hollingsworth property is located off Highway 276 between Mauldin and the Greenville city limits, near Clemson University’s International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR). The facility closed in 2009, but the company maintains 24-hour security at the site. Both bodies were found near a guard shack at the gate, according to Fox Carolina.

Master Deputy Jonathan Smith said it appeared the murders occurred during a shift change, as typically only one guard mans the gate at a time. Smith said K-9 units and deputies searched the property for any evidence connected to the deaths.

“We understand the concerns from citizens,” he said, asking anyone who had seen anything suspicious in the area to call Crimestoppers at (843) 23-CRIME. “We’d just remind everybody to be mindful.”

In a statement released Friday, Hollingsworth Funds said both men were longtime employees. Woods had been an employee at the site since 1967, while Ellison had worked there since 1998.

Prosecutors: Raptors killed in Jasper County to help quail hunts

Red-Tailed Hawk (Image: SCDNR)

Red-Tailed Hawk (Image: SCDNR)

A Jasper County hunting preserve has agreed to pay a quarter-million dollars after three of its employees were sentenced for illegally trapping and killing more than 30 federally-protected raptors.

Federal prosecutors announced Friday that the MacKay Point Plantation in Yemassee would pay $250,000 in restitution to several animal charities in the area. The announcement came as 8,000-acre preserve’s general manager 59-year-old William Martin and two other employees pleaded guilty to killing the birds of prey in order to reduce predators for the site’s annual quail hunts.

“Today’s sentence sends a strong message to unscrupulous hunters and landowners who think they are above the law,” U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles said in a statement, adding that killing birds of prey to improve quail hunts has become a “widespread” problem in the Southeast.

Prosecutors say Martin, 54-year-Keith Gebhardt, and 63-year-old Mark Argetsinger were each sentenced to six months probation, community service, and fine. All three will also be banned from trapping animals for  year. Argetsinger is a Beaufort native, while Martin and Gebhardt live in Yemassee.

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Bond denied for man accused of crashing into Clinton retirement home

Bond has been denied for a man accused of deliberately crashing his car into an assisted living facility in Clinton on Wednesday, sending eight people to the hospital and forcing the evacuation of all 40 residents.

A judge on Thursday denied bond for 84-year-old Alton Payton on an attempted murder charge, according to the Clinton Chronicle. The judge set a $10,000 bond on a charge of malicious injury to property. Clinton Public Safety Director Robin Morse had told the court he believed Payton was a danger to himself and the community.

Two family members are asking the judge to consider a psychological evaluation, saying that Payton is suffering from early signs of dementia.

Investigators said the 84-year-old rammed his car through the doors at Bailey Manor Presbyterian retirement home Wednesday and ended up in the lobby. While no one was injured in the crash itself, Morse said a portable gas can in the car caught fire and several people suffered smoke inhalation. All 40 residents had to be evacuated. Authorities estimated the crash did $500,000 worth of damage to the home.

According to the Chronicle, Bailey Manor Administrator Rita Stanley said it will take several weeks to repair the building. She said most of the residents are staying with family, while others are at Presbyterian Community South Carolina or National HealthCare Clinton.

Tom Hayes contributed to this report

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.