Ravenel gets 10-month sentence for coke charge

COLUMBIA -- As he tells it, former State Treasurer Thomas Ravenel experimented with marijuana at 15, started using cocaine at 18 and dabbled in LSD, Ecstasy and other drugs in high school and college.

For 24 years, while working to make millions as a commercial developer, he used cocaine sporadically, but beginning in 2005, his drug habit grew worse.

He fell in with a young, fast bar crowd who used cocaine. At one point in 2006, while running for treasurer, Ravenel was using at least 2 grams of cocaine every two weeks.

One witness told investigators she saw the 45-year-old scion of one of Charleston's most prominent families use or pass out cocaine at 27 parties. Authorities say he routinely provided cocaine at parties at his Charleston mansion.

Ravenel claimed his habit died down in the six months after he was elected treasurer. But the law caught up with him in June, and Friday he learned his fate:

• Ten months in federal prison;

• A $221,323 fine; and

• $28,676 restitution to reimburse the state for the cost of a special legislative session to name his successor.

U.S. District Judge Joe Anderson said the public would have perceived a miscarriage of justice if Ravenel had been let off, given his position and his repeatedly using and giving away powder cocaine.

"A sentence of incarceration is necessary in this case to promote respect for the law," Anderson said at the end of the hearing in Columbia. "To not impose a custodial sentence would not promote respect for the law."

Ravenel could have received 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine. Under federal sentencing guidelines, the recommended punishment was 10 to 16 months in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Ravenel apologized to his family, business associates and the state.

"I brought embarrassment as a public official to the state," he told Anderson. "I want to spend the rest of my life not just saying, 'I'm sorry,' but making amends."

He apparently kept his cocaine habit a secret from his family and many of his business partners and friends. The eight witnesses who spoke on his behalf -- including his father, former U.S. Rep. Arthur Ravenel -- talked about his generosity toward others, his commitment to rehabilitating himself, and his economic contributions as a developer of shopping centers and other commercial projects.

"He was so bright, so smart, so energetic, so successful in politics and business," said his oldest sister, Suzie Ravenel, 58. "But we also knew there was something missing in his success. There was a restlessness and a hard edge that kept him from his family."

Before sentencing Ravenel, Anderson gave co-defendant Michael Miller, a 26-year-old self-employed disc jockey from Mount Pleasant who authorities say sold cocaine to Ravenel at least five times, the same 10-month sentence. But Anderson but didn't impose any fines on Miller, noting he was too poor to pay them.

In an unusual move, Anderson ordered that Miller and Ravenel won't have to start their prison sentences for five months to allow the possibility of a further sentence reduction for their cooperation in an ongoing investigation.

Prosecutors wouldn't say who else might face charges.

"There are additional individuals we are focusing on," acting U.S. Attorney Kevin McDonald said afterward.

Prosecutors said Friday that Ravenel and Miller gave investigators information that led to the indictment of Charleston-area wine-tasting expert Pasquale Pellicoro, who never showed for his first court appearance, in September, and remains a fugitive. Authorities believe Pellicoro, an Italian citizen, is somewhere in Europe, McDonald said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney William Witherspoon in Friday's hearing identified Pellicoro and Miller as Ravenel's "dealers," though he didn't provide specifics. Anderson noted the case "would be termed a lightweight conspiracy."

Black leaders earlier said they have been watching the case closely to see whether Ravenel, who is wealthy and white, would be treated more favorably than Miller, who is black and comes from a middle-class background.

"Lady Justice should be proud today because the scales were balanced," Lonnie Randolph, president of the S.C. NAACP, who attended Friday's hearing, said when contacted afterward.

Randolph said he felt bad for both families -- "no one should be in this situation" -- but it was vital the public see that rich and poor, black and white, are treated equally.