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The state Attorney General’s Office has asked the State Law Enforcement Division to open a criminal investigation into whether House Speaker Bobby Harrell violated state ethics laws.
Wilson sent a letter to SLED Chief Mark Keel on Thursday saying that Ashley Landess, president of the South Carolina Policy Council, had “delivered information to this office alleging possible criminal violations by Speaker Bobby Harrell.”
“Consistent with our long-standing policy, we are requesting that SLED assign an agent to conduct this inquiry,” John McIntosh, chief deputy attorney general, wrote in a letter to Keel.
Landess’ complaint lays out five allegations that “that seem to demonstrate a pattern of abuse of power that is extremely disturbing.” All of the allegations involve the state ethics law. The allegations include that Harrell:
• Used his office “for his own financial benefit” citing S.C. code 8-13-700
• Used campaign funds for personal purposes, citing S.C. code 8-13-1348
• Appointed his brother to the Judicial Merit Selection Commission, citing S.C. code 8-13-750
• Failed to document his expenditures, citing S.C. code 8-13-1302
• Did not adequately itemize reimbursements to himself from his campaign account, citing S.C. code 8-13-1360
Harrell callaed the complaint “a baseless attack that is driven by a personal and political vendetta.”
“What little ‘facts’ I have seen this political group put forward have been disproven and the rest appears to be the product of an over-active imagination,” Harrell wrote in a news release. “The real reason why this political group did not file anything at the appropriate place, the House Ethics Committee, is because it would prevent them from holding any more press conferences. And as shown by their lack of fact and substance, this political group’s goal is to conduct a smear campaign against me in the media."
Wilson has said repeatedly he was waiting on the House Ethics Committee to investigate before his office got involved. However, McIntosh wrote in his letter to SLED that “Ms. Landess has brought to our attention today that there may be inherent conflicts of interest by potential witnesses with respect to any initial inquiry by the House Ethics Committee.”
House Ethics Committee Chairman Kenny Bingham, R-West Columbia, said he met with Landess earlier this week to review the committee’s “process and procedures.”
“Ms. Landess did not file a complaint with our Committee, nor did she discuss the specific nature of her complaint with me. She told me she had concerns about our process and the supervisory role the Speaker of the House might have over committee staff. Because of those concerns, she said she would rather take her complaint directly to the attorney general. I told her that was certainly her right under the law,” Bingham said in a news release. “"I have every confidence the attorney general will conduct a fair and complete investigation. Because this matter is now under review by SLED and the Attorney General’s Office, it would be inappropriate for me to make any additional comments.”
Landess said as the presiding officer of the House, Harrell is in charge of all the House employees that would be responsible for running the investigation. And, Landess said, Harrell’s office would “ultimately be responsible for authorizing the hiring and payment of an independent investigator.”
“No reasonable person could possibly assume objectivity on the part of the House Ethics Committee,” Landess wrote.
This is not the first time Wilson has asked SLED to investigate a public official. Last year, Wilson’s office investigated former Lt. Gov. Ken Ard that resulted in an indictment by the State Grand Jury and Ard’s resignation. Wilson also asked SLED to investigate state Treasurer Curtis Loftis on “pay to play” allegations involving the state retirement fund. Loftis was eventually cleared of all charges.
Wilson also asked SLED to investigate Reynolds Williams on allegations that he used his position as the chairman of the state Retirement Investment Commission to steer lucrative contracts to his law firm. That case is still pending.
Summary of the complaint against House Speaker Bobby Harrell
Letter from S.C. Policy Council President Ashley Landess to Attorney General Alan Wilson
Letter from the Attorney General’s Office to SLED Chief Mark Keel