August 16, 2014

Harrell: No grand jury indictment, Wilson off ethics case

House Speaker Bobby Harrell said Saturday the State Grand Jury investigation into ethics complaints against him has ended without issuing any indictments.

House Speaker Bobby Harrell said Saturday the State Grand Jury investigation into ethics complaints against him has ended without issuing any indictments.

S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson also has removed himself from the case, the Charleston Republican said.

Wilson, whose office had been leading an investigation into allegations against the powerful House leader, has handed “any future dealings on the matter” to 1st Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe, Harrell said in a statement.

Pascoe, a Democrat, is solicitor for Orangeburg, Calhoun and Dorchester counties. Wilson is a Republican.

The speaker said his attorneys learned about the end of the State Grand Jury probe on July 29, a month after the grand jury’s term expired on June 30.

“I have said from the beginning that I violated no law and have only sought an independent prosecutor free of political motives and influence,” Harrell said Saturday. “I hope these events accomplish that.”

Harrell’s camp has accused Wilson of trying to bully the speaker into getting the House to pass legislation to create a unit to investigate public corruption, an allegation Wilson has denied.

Wilson’s office would not confirm Saturday that the grand jury has concluded its investigation, news that Harrell shared during a speech at the House Republican Caucus retreat Saturday in Myrtle Beach.

“We are unable to comment because the Supreme Court order directs that we are not to disclose these matters,” Wilson spokesman Mark Powell said.

A Supreme Court ruling last month, allowing the grand jury investigation to continue, chided the attorney general’s office for releasing information about the status of the Harrell case.

A government watchdog said Saturday he was disappointed the investigation had ended.

“We don’t have a serious law enforcement system in South Carolina,” said John Crangle, S.C. director for Common Cause. “We have politics.”

Ashley Landess, who filed the original complaint against Harrell, said she does not know for sure if the speaker has been cleared.

"I would take what he says with a mountain of salt," said Landess, president of the limited-government S.C. Policy Council think tank. "We have no idea what’s true or not true."

No other active investigations of Harrell by state or federal authorities or by the House Ethics Committee have been announced. State Rep. Kenny Bingham, the Lexington Republican who chairs that committee, would not confirm whether a complaint about the speaker has been filed.

Harrell was accused of spending campaign money on his private plane, using his House office to help his pharmaceutical business and, in violation of state law, appointing his brother to a panel that reviews candidates who want to be judges.

The State Law Enforcement Division investigated the allegations for 10 months. In January, Wilson announced that the State Grand Jury would investigate. SLED chief Mark Keel and Circuit Court Judge Casey Manning signed off on the State Grand Jury probe.

But Manning ordered the grand jury probe stopped in May, after Harrell's attorneys sought to remove Wilson from the case. In his ruling, Manning said there was no evidence of probable criminal wrong-doing by Harrell.

However, the Supreme Court last month reversed Manning's decision, allowing the grand jury investigation to go forward.

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