Ravenel to enter guilty plea today

Former South Carolina Treasurer Thomas Ravenel, center, plans to plead guilty today to a federal cocaine charge.
Former South Carolina Treasurer Thomas Ravenel, center, plans to plead guilty today to a federal cocaine charge.

When former State Treasurer Thomas Ravenel enters his expected guilty plea today to a federal cocaine charge, prosecutors might finally reveal his connection to co-defendant Pasquale Pellicoro.

But as of Wednesday night, authorities still had not located the Charleston-area wine expert, who failed to show up earlier in the day for his first court appearance in Columbia on the same charge Ravenel faces.

First Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin McDonald said late Wednesday afternoon that Pellicoro "made telephone contact" with authorities but had not been apprehended.

Pellicoro, 53, was scheduled to appear Wednesday morning in U.S. District Court on a charge of conspiracy to possess and distribute less than 500 grams of cocaine. The charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

Magistrate Joseph McCrorey said he would issue a bench warrant for Pellicoro's arrest after Assistant U.S. Attorney William Witherspoon informed him Pellicoro wasn't in the courtroom.

After Pellicoro was indicted Aug. 22, federal authorities didn't arrest him but instead issued a summons for him to voluntarily appear at Wednesday's hearing, Witherspoon said afterward.

"For someone not to voluntarily appear for an arraignment is extremely unusual," said longtime Columbia criminal defense attorney Jack Swerling, who is not connected to the case. "In my 35 years, it's happened less than the fingers on my hand."

It's common in relatively small drug cases that don't involve violence to allow indicted suspects to remain free pending their first court appearance, Swerling said.

Pellicoro apparently is not a U.S. citizen and could travel out of the country if he had proper paperwork, Witherspoon said after Wednesday's hearing. An unrelated 2003 civil lawsuit indicated he was an Italian citizen.

If Pellicoro is apprehended, Witherspoon said he would not recommend an unsecured bond, under which a defendant pays no money up front. Ravenel has been free on a $100,000 unsecured bond since his June 19 indictment and, like Pellicoro, was allowed to remain free pending his arraignment.

Federal authorities have been tight-lipped about Pellicoro's relationship to Ravenel. Ravenel, who, according to his attorneys, has been through two drug-treatment facilities since his indictment, is accused of using cocaine and sharing it with others, though not selling it.

In a related matter Wednesday, McCrorey set a $25,000 surety bond for another co-defendant, Michael Miller, 25, of Mount Pleasant, who recently was indicted on eight new cocaine-distribution charges.

Miller is accused of selling an unspecified amount of cocaine to Ravenel, though federal authorities have not revealed details.

Miller's mother, Lavern Cheek, said in court that she could post the bail and that her son would live with her after his release. Miller's attorney, Katherine Evatt, said Cheek agreed to put up property worth $32,700 as surety for the bail.

Miller originally received a $100,000 unsecured bond on the same conspiracy charge issued to Ravenel and Pellicoro, though he has remained in the Charleston County jail since his June 19 arrest.

Witherspoon told McCrorey that a state cocaine-trafficking charge against Miller is expected to be dismissed, leaving Miller to face only federal charges. Witherspoon said the federal indictment covers the offense Miller faced under the state charge.

Miller would be released from jail as soon as the state charge is dismissed, Witherspoon said.

Ravenel, 45, a multimillionaire Charleston developer, agreed last week to plead guilty to his charge. He is scheduled to enter his plea at 10 a.m. today before Chief U.S. District Judge Joe Anderson.

Ravenel, who resigned from office after a July 24 court hearing, likely won't be sentenced until at least November. Under federal sentencing guidelines, he probably would receive a sentence ranging from only probation to about two years in prison, an analysis by The State newspaper found.