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Ravenel to be treated at addictive behavioral center, authorities say

COLUMBIA -- Suspended state Treasurer Thomas Ravenel is entering an out-of-state treatment center that specializes in addictive behavior, according to federal authorities.

The treatment center, Sierra Tucson, is in Tucson, Ariz., on a 160-acre campus. The facility treats a wide variety of addiction and behavioral disorders, according to its Web site.

No one connected with the Ravenel case would say exactly what course of treatment Ravenel will undergo at Sierra Tucson, although his father, Arthur, on Monday said his son has a "drug problem."

A lawyer representing Ravenel indicted last week on federal cocaine conspiracy and distribution charges informed the U.S. Attorney's office in Columbia of Ravenel's out-of-state treatment plans, according to U.S. Attorney Reggie Lloyd.

"We are in talks with Mr. Ravenel's attorneys. They are keeping us informed," Lloyd said Tuesday.

A public letter from one of Ravenel's attorneys, Bart Daniel, about Ravenel's treatment plans will be filed later this week with the U.S. District Court, Lloyd said. The letter is from Daniel to U.S. Magistrate Joseph McCrorey.

Although Ravenel, who took office in January, was indicted June 19, he is free to leave the state as long as he appears at his July 9 arraignment in federal court in Columbia.

At that time, he will be formally charged, enter a plea, and a judge may impose conditions on his travel. Also, Ravenel's lawyers Daniel and Gedney Howe III, both of Charleston, will begin examining the evidence against their client.

Ravenel, 44, a multimillionaire from a high-profile Charleston political family, is not considered a flight risk, Lloyd said.

Ravenel's decision to seek treatment at a specialized center is "a good move on his part," said defense attorney Dick Harpootlian of Columbia, a former prosecutor who is not connected to the case.

If Ravenel, who has no previous drug record, is found guilty and can convince a judge he is serious about getting treatment, the judge might let him off with probation and no prison time, Harpootlian said.

Such suspended sentences for a first offender can be routine, depending on the facts of the case, Harpootlian said.

"There are two kinds of people involved with drugs: sellers and users," said Harpootlian, adding judges are inclined to show leniency to first-offender users if they are serious about treating their addiction.

Ravenel is not charged with selling cocaine but is alleged to have shared it with friends, which still qualifies as distribution.

Another defense attorney with wide experience in drug cases, Jack Swerling of Columbia, said Ravenel's decision to seek treatment gives a possible preview as to what his legal strategy might be.

"But without more facts, we can't say what that precise strategy might be," Swerling said.

One key unknown fact, said Swerling, is exactly how much cocaine in terms of weight federal authorities will say Ravenel had.

The indictment says Ravenel conspired to possess and distribute "less than 500 grams of cocaine." Five hundred grams is 1.1 pounds. The time period alleged is from late 2005 until this month.

But, said Swerling, that charge can mean anything from several ounces up to a pound. The more cocaine authorities can prove Ravenel was involved with, the greater his potential sentence would be, Swerling said.

The charge against Ravenel carries a maximum of 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

If Ravenel is guilty, other factors that might enter into his sentence are being a first offender and whether he tips authorities to other players in the cocaine trade, Swerling said.

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