S.C. House Speaker|Pleads Guilty, Resigns

     (CN) – S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell pleaded guilty today to charges he spent nearly $300,000 in campaign funds on himself and others, and immediately resigned from office.
     Harrell, who was indicted on September 10 on nine ethics and misconduct-related charges, arrived at the Richland County courthouse with his family and attorney, Bart Daniel, shortly after 10 a.m.
     During the hearing, Harrell agreed to a deal in which he will serve three years probation, pay a $30,000 fine, forfeit all money from his re-election campaign account, and pay $98,968 to the state’s general fund.
     He is also prohibited from seeking office for three years.
     An hour later, Harrell issued a brief written statement that said, “I have agreed to this today to end what has been a two year nightmare.”
     “This has been incredibly hard on my family and me, and it is time for it to end,” he continued. “We have a fundamental disagreement over the proper use of a campaign account to fly a private aircraft to conduct state and campaign business, but to continue to fight this would have taken another year, possibly two.”
     The indictment handed down by a Richland County grand jury accused 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,” 1st Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe explained at the time. “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 continued, “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 accused 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, said 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, leader of the House since 2005, long denied any wrongdoing during what was an uncommonly public investigation.
     Harrell left the courthouse saying that he and his wife are deeply appreciative “to everyone who has offered words of encouragement and prayers on our behalf.”
     “My passion for our state remains as strong as it has ever been, and I will continue to look for ways to serve the Lowcountry and South Carolina,” he said.
     In his own written statement, House Speaker Pro Tempore Jay Lucas said:
     “This is a disappointing day for South Carolina and the South Carolina House of Representatives. Days like this test the faith of the citizens of this State in their public officials. It is my hope that bringing this matter involving Speaker Harrell to a close will allow the House to move forward and to focus on the issues important to South Carolina.”

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