- Associated Press - Monday, January 13, 2014

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - South Carolina’s chief prosecutor said Monday he had handed over his review to the State Grand Jury of a state police report on ethics allegations against Speaker Bobby Harrell, who called on authorities to release their findings to the public.

The announcement comes a month after Attorney General Alan Wilson’s office received what it called a “voluminous” report from the State Law Enforcement Division.

At Wilson’s request, state police began looking at the case after South Carolina Policy Council President Ashley Landess alleged that the Charleston Republican used his office to boost his finances by using influence to get a permit for his pharmaceutical business.

The libertarian think tank also took issue with Harrell appointing his brother to a committee that screens judicial candidates and picks the top three for each seat, from which the Legislature then chooses.


At the time, Harrell called the complaint a baseless attack driven by a “personal and political vendetta.” On Monday, the speaker said in a statement that he was disappointed that Wilson had not contacted his attorneys prior to telling reporters about the decision. Harrell also called on the prosecutor to release SLED’s report to the public, saying the process had gone on long enough already and noting that he had been cooperative.

“At every stage of this investigation it was reiterated to us that investigators have found no areas of concern. Given every indication we have received from SLED and the Attorney General, I am disappointed and shocked by this sudden change of course,” Harrell said.

Wilson spokesman Mark Powell said his office can’t and won’t release any documents. He said Harrell’s attorney was notified by phone at least 30 minutes before the news release went out.

Wilson’s office declined to comment further on the investigation, citing the secrecy of State Grand Jury proceedings. Empaneled for one year at a time, 12 of the State Grand Jury’s 18 members must find probable cause that a law has been broken before handing down an indictment. There is no defined timetable for the length of their investigatory process.

Wilson initially declined to take the complaint directly. But, in a letter to state police last year, he noted that Landess had brought to his attention possible conflicts of interest with any review by the House Ethics Committee - an argument both she and Common Cause director John Crangle made for months as they considered filing a complaint.

Other allegations against Harrell stemmed from a 2012 Post and Courier report that raised accusations that Harrell couldn’t account for money withdrawn from his campaign and had used his campaign account for personal expenses. The newspaper’s report pointed to generic descriptions Harrell gave on quarterly campaign filings to explain his reimbursements.

Harrell, speaker since 2005, said then that he’d followed state ethics law, which requires forms provide a “brief description” of each expense, and that he’d be more specific going forward. State law allows public officials to use campaign donations for campaigning or expenses related to their office duties, which for Harrell are broad.

Crangle, who has previously called on Harrell to step down from his leadership role during the investigation, said Wilson’s decision to send the matter to the State Grand jury means that the prosecutor has likely found serious violations.

“I think that Bobby Harrell is history. I think that it’s going to be the end of his political career,” Crangle said. “I don’t see how he could survive this thing. Wilson could not take this to the grand jury and come out with a whitewash.”

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Seanna Adcox contributed to this report. Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP