COLUMBIA -- State Treasurer Thomas Ravenel was indicted on federal drug charges Tuesday and was suspended from office by Gov. Mark Sanford.
Ravenel, 44, and Michael L. Miller of Mount Pleasant are charged with one count each of conspiracy to possess and intent to distribute cocaine.
Miller already is in state custody on charges of trafficking cocaine. Ravenel is scheduled to appear July 9 in federal court in Columbia for arraignment, U.S. Attorney Reggie Lloyd said.
Ravenel, a Republican, was elected treasurer in November. The charges filed Tuesday stated he has "knowingly, intentionally and unlawfully possess(ed) with intent to distribute" cocaine since at least late 2005.
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The case grew out of a Charleston Police Department investigation into narcotics, said State Law Enforcement Division Chief Robert Stewart.
The Charleston police asked for SLED's assistance in that investigation, Stewart said.
"Information was developed that state Treasurer Thomas Ravenel allegedly was involved in this illegal activity," Stewart said at a news conference.
Stewart asked the FBI and U.S. attorney to join the investigation April 1, once the case involved a statewide elected official who "administers the use of vast public funds."
Lloyd described Miller as a drug dealer. He stressed Ravenel was not charged with selling cocaine. Under federal law, a charge of intent to distribute cocaine can mean a defendant acquired the drug and gave it to others. Lloyd would not say to whom Ravenel allegedly gave cocaine.
Efforts to reach Ravenel were unsuccessful. He is represented by Columbia lawyer Joel Collins, according to Scott Malyerck, communications director for the treasurer's office. Efforts to reach Collins also were unsuccessful.
The charges come the day after Ravenel attended a dinner at a Columbia restaurant. There, he seemed "not to have a care in the world," said Burnie Maybank, former state revenue director, who hosted the dinner at Saluda's in Five Points. "It's just a shocker."
Malyerck said he did not know the indictment was coming and declined to comment on it. He said Ravenel had meetings outside of his state office Tuesday.
"The work of the treasurer's office goes on," he said. "Our banking, investing and management practices go on."
Malyerck said staff will manage the office until Sanford names an interim treasurer, who will serve until the case is resolved. If Ravenel is acquitted or charges are dropped, he can reassume the post. If he is convicted or resigns, the office becomes vacant and the General Assembly will elect a new treasurer. Ravenel's term runs through 2010.
Sanford suspends Ravenel
Sanford moved quickly to suspend Ravenel, an ally.
"Given the grave nature of these charges, and what is alleged in this indictment, we're left with no choice but to suspend Treasurer Ravenel immediately," Sanford said in a statement, adding he plans to name an interim treasurer soon.
Ravenel rose quickly to prominence in S.C. politics, aided by his pedigree as the son of former U.S. Rep. and state Sen. Arthur Ravenel of Charleston.
Thomas Ravenel first ran for public office in 2004, seeking the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate. The multimillionaire real estate developer put thousands of his own dollars into the race, finishing close third in the Republican primary. Ravenel then endorsed the eventual winner, U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-Greenville,
More recently, Ravenel mulled a 2008 challenge to U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-Seneca, before changing course and running for treasurer in 2006.
Ravenel barely won the GOP primary over state Sen. Greg Ryberg, R-Aiken, and former House Majority Leader Rick Quinn, R-Richland.
Ryberg, endorsed in the primary by Sanford, is considered a top candidate to be named interim treasurer. Efforts to reach Ryberg late Tuesday were unsuccessful.
Should the office eventually become vacant, Quinn said Tuesday he would consider running. "I'd have to consider it."
Ravenel defeated veteran incumbent Democrat Grady Patterson in November.
Patterson had been treasurer for 36 of the past 40 years.
"It's my hope for Thomas Ravenel and the people of this state that the charges don't hold true," Patterson said in a statement.
Ravenel also was a state director for Rudy Giuliani's 2008 the GOP presidential bid. The Giuliani campaign said Tuesday Ravenel had left the campaign.