State House Speaker Bobby Harrell has been indicted on nine total counts, including misconduct in office, using campaign funds for personal use, and false reporting on his campaign disclosures.
Harrell’s indictment by the Richland County Grand Jury was announced Wednesday by First Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe, who took over the case after Attorney General Alan Wilson removed himself last month. The nine indictments are for two counts of Misconduct in Office (statutory and common law), six counts of Using Campaign Funds for Personal Use, and one count of False Reporting Candidate Campaign Disclosures.
A bond hearing date has not been set. The release said Speaker Harrell has received a copy of his indictment, but will be allowed to continue with a formal proceeding.
“At this point in the process, the indictments are mere accusations,” Pascoe said in a release. “Mr. Harrell is presumed innocent until proven guilty.” The First Circuit Solicitor said he will have no further comment regarding this matter.
Neither Harrell nor his spokesman have commented on the indictments. The Speaker has repeatedly insisted he did nothing illegal and, as recently as last month, had expressed confidence he would not be indicted.
The indictments accuse Harrell of personally paying himself more than $294,000 from his campaign account between January 2009 and January 2013. In filings with the State Ethics Commission, Harrell reported that money as reimbursements for legislative and campaign expenses. The indictments state almost $94,000 of that went towards expenses from Harrell’s private plane. Another $96,381 paid for legislative travel during that four-year span. The Speaker also set aside more than $70,000 to pay an administrative assistant at the insurance agency he owns, according to prosecutors.
The indictments largely focused on Harrell’s reimbursements for use of a private plane. The documents claim Harrell paid himself from his campaign account for “non-existent round trip flight(s)” on at least four occasions in 2009. He is also accused of paying himself nearly $3,800 for use of the plane on a Florida trip with family and friends to attend a high school baseball tournament. Harrell had reported the costs as “legislative travel” on his campaign disclosures.
State law requires elected officials to document their campaign accounts every three months and submit them to the State Ethics Commission. There is no requirement that they show receipts or any other documentation to prove how they spent the funds.
Wednesday’s announcement came 19 months after South Carolina Policy Council president Ashley Landess filed an ethics complaint with State Attorney General Alan Wilson. The Attorney General’s Office turned over the complaint to the State Law Enforcement Division, which then conducted its investigation in secret before turning in its finished report to the Attorney General last year. Wilson then announced in January that the State Grand Jury had been convened to hear evidence against the Speaker. That sparked a series of legal battles, as attorneys representing Harrell argued Wilson should recuse himself from the proceedings due to a conflict of interest.
A circuit judge ruled in May that only the House Ethics Committee had the power to investigate an ethics complaint against Harrell. But the state Supreme Court reversed that decision two months later, saying Wilson did have the authority to bring the case before the State Grand Jury. However, Wilson eventually turned over the case to the First Circuit Solicitor in August, who then brought the evidence before the Richland County Grand Jury instead.
The House of Representatives Clerk’s Office told The State newspaper’s Andy Shain that it would review Harrell’s indictments to see if it warranted suspension from office. State law says legislators who are indicted for felonies, crimes carrying more than two years in prison, or violations of election laws must be suspended without pay. Most recently, the House suspended State Rep. Harold Mitchell, D-Spartanburg, in 2012 following his indictment on felony tax charges (Mitchell pleaded guilty later that year and was sentenced to probation. He is back in the House).
Harrell is facing reelection in November. He is opposed by Democrat Mary Tinkler and Green Party candidate Sue Edward. He had been the overwhelming favorite to win prior to the indictment.