State police have now released their investigative report into former House Speaker Bobby Harrell, nearly one year after its completion led to charges against one of the most powerful men in the Statehouse.
The final eight pages of the report are blacked out, which a State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) spokesman said followed state laws allowing law enforcement to withhold information that could eventually be “used in a prospective law enforcement action.”
Previously, First Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe — whose office prosecuted Harrell this year — would not say if the investigation had been expanded into other lawmakers or Statehouse personnel. However, part of the ex-Speaker’s plea deal would require him to act as an informant or witness in further proceedings.
SLED began investigating Harrell’s finances in 2013 after the State Attorney General’s Office forwarded a complaint from Ashley Landess, the president of the libertarian thinktank South Carolina Policy Council. SLED finished its report in late 2013. Attorney General Alan Wilson then turned it over as evidence for the State Grand Jury in January of this year. That sparked a protracted court battle between Harrell and the Attorney General that eventually led Wilson to recuse himself in favor of Pascoe.
In September, a second grand jury eventually returned ten indictments against the Speaker. Harrell pleaded guilty to six counts of use of campaign funds for personal expenses last month and was sentenced to six years in prison, suspended in favor of three years probation with a $30,000 fine. He also resigned his seat in the House.
The SLED report focused largely on discrepancies with how Harrell reported his campaign expenses, versus what his financial records actually showed. Investigators also revealed dozens of interviews conducted with Harrell and his staff that were not revealed in court.
More details were also given about flights that Harrell took in his private plane and charged to his campaign account. Most of the flights appeared to be for legitimate reasons, but SLED agents noted issues in how the Speaker (who also acted as pilot) calculated his own reimbursement rate.
During one of those trips, investigators said Harrell flew his plane to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for a 2009 high school baseball tournament. He charged his campaign account $3,800 for the flight, citing only “legislative travel.” When investigators asked how the trip served state business, the report said Harrell called it a “see and be seen trip” with constituents. The report also reveals a previously unreported flight to the June 2010 opening of the “Wizarding World of Harry Potter” at Universal Studios amusement park in Orlando, Florida. The Wizarding World opening coincided with the dates of the 2010 National Speakers Conference that Harrell reported attending in Annapolis, MD at the same time.
When he was asked about the Orlando trip, Harrell provided a copy of an invitation to the event as his itinerary. The invitation did not indicate a name. Harrell also told investigators that he went on the trip to meet “with film company executives in regard to film legislation that was under consideration” at the time. The report said the Speaker did not provide any documentation indicating who the film company executives were or where and when the meeting took place.
On his documents, Harrell also listed trips to legislative conferences or committee meetings in Sea Island, GA; Key Biscayne, FL; Washington, DC; Kiawah Island, SC; Charleston; San Francisco, CA; Anchorage, Alaska; and Dublin, Ireland from 2009 to 2012.
Harrell’s spokesman at the time Greg Foster said Harrell was allowed by state law to use campaign funds to pay for travel as an ordinary expense of his office. This allowed the Speaker to use campaign funds instead of state funds for travel expenses. Foster further said that Harrell was trying to be elected as either president or chairman of the Southern Legislative Conference at the time. Foster argued Harrell would have tried hosting conferences in Charleston to benefit the local economy if he had been elected.
The report also noted more than $22,000 paid to E Systems Solutions, a company that set up wireless access for Harrell’s offices. But the report also noted E Systems was paid to set up his wife’s computer, repair computers inside the home, and connect a Nintendo Wii to the wireless network.
The report also examined nearly $23,000 in discrepancies that Harrell repaid his campaign fund in 2012 (after a critical Charleston Post & Courier report). The report noted the Speaker cut himself a check on at least nine occasions using campaign funds, but the expenditure reports he provided would be up to a thousand dollars lower than the checks he wrote. Neither the checks nor the E Systems payments were part of the final indictments against Harrell.