A state judge on Thursday set a $146,000 personal recognizance bond for a former South Carolina House majority leader accused of obtaining hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments from several different organizations in exchange for helping those organizations legislatively.
State Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Daniel Island, faces up to 66 years in prison if convicted on all 30 ethics-related charges. His attorney has disputed that Merrill’s actions violated the law, saying the longtime lawmaker was paid for consulting and printing work done by his firm.
Circuit Judge Knox McMahon said the bond amount matches the maximum in fines Merrill could face if found guilty on all counts. Merrill would only have to pay the $146,000 if he fails to appear in court.
The indictments handed down by a Richland County grand jury last week claim Merrill used his consulting firm Geechie Communications to garner more than $1 million from trade groups and companies since 2002. He usually then acted as a key sponsor for legislation that benefitted those organizations without reporting the money on his campaign filings.
“Since at least 2002 through this year, (Rep. Merrill) used his position and his employment as a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives to gain an economic interest for himself,” First Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe said during Thursday’s bond hearing. “He went about getting this economic interest and this benefit by violating multiple acts and laws in the Ethics Government Accountability Campaign Reform Act of 1991.”
Merrill’s attorneys disputed the allegations, with attorney Matthew Hubbell saying the indictments were based on “very fundamental misunderstandings of the law.” They also argued the legislator was not a flight risk, noting he had known about the investigation for two years but remained in his House seat.
Pascoe has been acting as a special prosecutor for the state Attorney General’s Office in its investigation of Statehouse corruption. Attorney General Alan Wilson has recused himself from the case due to his consulting ties with some lawmakers potentially under investigation (Merrill is not believed to be among them).