S.C. House Speaker|Charged With Corruption

     (CN) – South Carolina House Speaker Bobby Harrell helped himself to nearly $300,000 in campaign funds, then fudged records to hide it, according to a nine-count indictment announced Wednesday by Solicitor David Pascoe.
     The indictment handed down by a Richland County grand jury accuses Harrell, long one of the most powerful lawmakers in South Carolina, of paying himself $294,335 in untaxed income and claiming that the payments were for legislative or campaign expenses.
     “These payments included approximately $98,958.50 converted to the defendant’s personal use for expenses of defendant’s privately owned airplane,” Pascoe says. “The payments include approximately $96,381.46 for legislative travel despite the fact that some of the travel expenditures were personal in nature.”
     “Furthermore,” Pascoe continues, “the defendant obtained these travel ‘reimbursements’ despite the fact he also received payment for some of these travel expenses from other sources.”
     “These unlawful payments also included approximately $70,286.46 for salary paid to his administrative assistant for his privately owned State Farm Insurance business.”
     The indictment accuses Harrell of using his campaign account to pay credit card debt and pay for goods or services for his home, family and friends that were not “for any purpose related to his campaign for or position in the South Carolina House of Representatives.”
     Pascoe, who was appointed to handle the case by State Attorney General Alan Wilson after Harrell’s lawyers asked Wilson be removed from it, says Harrell concealed this pattern of unlawful payments by changing or altering entries in his pilot logbook, creating schedules for flights in order to justify payments when at least some of these flights never occurred, and misinforming the House Ethics Committee about the reason he reimbursed his campaign account.
     Harrell used more than $70,000 for salary paid to an administrative assistant for his insurance business, and used the campaign account “to pay credit card debt and to pay for goods or services for his home, family and friends that were not for any purposes related to his campaign for or position in the South Carolina House of Representatives,” the indictment states.
     Harrell, leader of the House since 2005, has long denied any wrongdoing during what has been an uncommonly public investigation.
     In a written statement provided to Courthouse News tonight, Harrell said: “I have said all along that I have never intentionally violated any law, and I still strongly believe that statement to be accurate.
     “In no way have I ever benefited personally or financially from travel reimbursements from my campaign account. In fact, I have regularly used the privately raised funds from my campaign account to pay for official state travel instead of passing that cost along to taxpayers. Similarly, I have often used my own airplane, at no cost to the taxpayers, for official state travel when it would have been completely justifiable to have used the taxpayer-funded state plane instead. If over the course of four years, I mistakenly wrote down the wrong date on a handful of items, that is something that can easily be addressed.”
     No bond hearing date has been set.

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