A special prosecutor’s investigation into public corruption in the S.C. General Assembly may possibly result in indictments by December, according to sources familiar with the probe.
And two figures already named publicly as possible targets of the investigation – Reps. Rick Quinn, R-Lexington, and Jim Merrill, R-Berkeley – remain in play, the sources said.
Neither Merrill nor his attorney, Scott Schools, could be reached for comment Wednesday.
In an interview, Quinn told The State newspaper he has done nothing wrong and has heard nothing from any law agency.
Never miss a local story.
Quinn’s name was mentioned in a State Law Enforcement Division report on questionable activity in the General Assembly.
The report raised the possibility that Quinn, a political and marketing consultant, may have used his public office for private gain by sending House Republican Caucus mailing business his way.
But Quinn said Wednesday the behavior described in the report was in no way improper or illegal.
“All regulatory authorities, then and today, have said there was nothing wrong with what was done. It was completely appropriate and legal,” Quinn said. “I would be shocked if there is any issue here at all.”
Meanwhile, the man who knows the investigation’s status for sure – special prosecutor David Pascoe, who is working the investigation with State Law Enforcement Division agents and a State Grand Jury – is keeping mum.
“I have absolutely no comment – zero,” Pascoe said Wednesday.
Pascoe has kept a low profile since winning a decisive victory in July in the S.C. Supreme Court over S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson, who tried to shut down Pascoe’s investigation and give it to another state solicitor who had no grounding in the complicated case.
In July, the high court ruled Wilson – who removed himself from the case because of an unspecified conflict of interest – could not fire Pascoe. In March, Pascoe asked the court to intervene against Wilson, alleging that Wilson was trying to scuttle the case just as the investigation was reaching a crucial phase.
Wilson, a Republican, has political ties to Quinn and Merrill.
A State Grand Jury, one of Pascoe’s tools as special prosecutor, has far more investigative powers than a regular county grand jury. Among its powers: it can compel witnesses to talk as well as subpoena bank records and emails.
But news articles and speculation by blogs have kept the story alive.
John Crangle, director of the citizen watchdog group Common Cause of South Carolina, said Wednesday he has little doubt Pascoe will indict someone.
“If Pascoe hadn’t had enough serious evidence of wrong-doing to proceed last summer, he wouldn’t have fought Alan Wilson so hard in the Supreme Court to keep the case,” Crangle said. “... I think he had identified people he wanted to indict and wanted to stay on the job.”
Crangle, who has written a book on the General Assembly’s Lost Trust corruption scandal in the 1990s, said it has always been unlikely that Pascoe would indict anyone between Labor Day and Election Day on Nov. 8. “He wouldn’t want to be seen as trying to disrupt the electoral process.”
Longtime South Carolina political observer Neal Thigpen said Wednesday that the most likely time for Pascoe to indite someone, if he is going to, is after the Nov. 8 election.
“That’s so they can make a big splash in the news, and it doesn’t have to compete with a big presidential election,” said Thigpen, political science professor emeritus at Francis Marion University in Florence. Also, Pascoe no doubt wants to have all the evidence he can gather, he said.
“Time is on Pascoe’s side, and I’m sure he wants to get it right. If it takes more time to get it right, take the time,” Thigpen said.
“There are still two big questions – what has Pascoe found, and how sound is it?”