COLUMBIA, SC — Convicted swindler and former Lexington lawyer Richard Breibart contributed heavily to state and local politicians in recent years, during the same time he was stealing millions from clients and taking money from other clients and failing to do work for them.
According to State Ethics Commission records, Breibart and his law office gave more than $45,000 to more than a dozen candidates for elections and primaries from 2007 to 2012.
Current state Attorney General Alan Wilson was the biggest recipient of Breibart’s generosity, raking in some $28,000 from Breibart and his law office – each of which gave the maximum $3,500 per election cycle.
Others getting money from Breibart include current Democratic candidate for governor Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw ($3,000); state Senate President Pro Tem John Courson ($1,000), R-Richland; state Rep. James Smith ($1,000), D-Richland; and state Sen. Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington ($1,500).
All received money before they knew Breibart was a criminal, before clients began to sue him for taking their money and before he was under federal indictment.
Officials contacted Wednesday said they had either given the money back, had donated it to charity or were in the process of donating.
• Courson, who received $1,000 in 2010 when he ran for the Senate, said he sent the money back as soon as Breibart’s legal problems surfaced. That would likely have been in September 2012, when Breibart was indicted by a federal grand jury for wire fraud charges connected to swindling $2.4 million from clients. Courson said Breibart at the time went to the same church as he did and it wasn’t unusual for him to get such a contribution.
• Smith, who ran for the S.C. House in 2012, received $1,000 from Breibart in September 2011. He said he hadn’t realized until Wednesday, when a reporter asked him, that Breibart had given him a contribution. Smith later said he will deliver a $1,000 check to the Children's Trust on Thursday.
• Setzler said he is in the process of giving $1,500 to the Children’s Trust of South Carolina to match the $1,500 Breibart gave him.
• Sheheen could not be reached for comment.
Political consultant Richard Quinn Sr., a spokesman for Wilson’s campaign, said Wednesday that Wilson is in the process of turning over a match for the entire $28,000 received in eight different contributions from Breibart and his law firm over four election cycles from 2010 to from Breibart to the Children’s Trust.
Wilson started that process after Breibart was sentenced to five years in prison earlier this month for flimflamming his clients, Quinn said.
“The disclosure report we are now preparing to be submitted by April 10, 2014, will reflect that we have remitted all $28,000 in past contributions connected to Mr. Breibart as donations to the Children Trust Fund of South Carolina,” Quinn said.
“The attorney general’s campaign has not received any donations from Richard Breibart personally or from his law firm since 2011,” Quinn said.
“Those changes in our disclosure are part of our on-going review of all past donations and campaign records to prepare our latest quarterly report and to make it as error free as possible,” Quinn said.
Quinn also said, “Our campaign made this decision because the attorney general's disclosure records for the past four years are receiving intense scrutiny. We welcome that scrutiny. We are eager to make any corrections anyone finds that may have escaped our attention. And we hope to set an example for others to follow.”
Quinn stressed that at the time Breibart made his contributions to Wilson and others, “No one knew that he was engaged in illegal activity.”
The money that Breibart contributed to candidates came during the very years Breibart was stealing millions from some clients and taking sizeable fees from clients and failing to do work for others, according to a federal indictment in his case and local lawyers.
According to the indictment and court statements, Breibart stole some $2.4 million from clients from November 2010 to June 1, 2012, when the Supreme Court suspended him suddenly and without explanation and his law firm shut down due to lack of funds to pay the 23-person staff.
The earliest known case for which he took money and did little or no work dates from 2007, according to Jack Duncan, president of the S.C. Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. Last year, Duncan and more than a dozen other defense lawyers took over many of Breibart’s cases for little or no money.
A full accounting of all the money Breibart stole from people has never been released by the S.C. Bar or the S.C. Supreme Court, which has yet to disbar Breibart. The high court’s disciplinary arm is apparently still investigating his actions before it delivers a final sanction.
Earlier this month, U.S. Judge Margaret Seymour sentenced Breibart, 63, to five years in federal prison.
At his hearing, lawyers told the judge Breibart was broke. He told the judge that he spent all the money he stole to expand his once-thriving legal business, which he said cost him $300,000 a month in expenses. However, Breibart did not tell Seymour he gave more than $40,000 to politicians during that time.
Most candidates Breibart gave to won office.
Dwight Drake, a 2010 gubernatorial candidate who announced for governor but later dropped out, received $3,500 from Breibart.
“That campaign account has long since been closed out,” Drake said Wednesday. “I refunded much of the money I hadn’t spent on a pro rata basis to all the contributors who wanted it. I can’t remember if Richard wanted his share back or not. There was some money left over, and I gave that to the S.C. Democratic Party and to some charities.”
Reach Monk at (803) 771-8344.