The long-awaited, 30-count indictment of state Rep. Jim Merrill could signal more are on the way, political onlookers and government watchdogs said Wednesday afternoon.
The Berkeley County Republican was suspended from the S.C. House on Wednesday after his indictment was announced.
Prosecutors say Merrill, 49, illegally used his public office to secure at least $1.3 million from private interests, some payments allegedly in exchange for influencing government decisions and sponsoring legislation.
Ashley Landess, president of the S.C. Policy Council, a libertarian think tank, said the kind of conduct alleged in the indictment is not unique to Merrill in the General Assembly.
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“Like all lawmakers with a consulting firm or a company, he was paid for performing a service,” Landess said. “And don’t think I’m defending Jim Merrill, because this shouldn’t be happening at all.”
In announcing the indictment, special prosecutor David Pascoe said his investigation into public corruption at the State House remains ongoing.
That signals more lawmakers could be charged, S.C. ethics watchdog John Crangle said.
Another clue is how hard Pascoe fought to retain control of the investigation when S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson attempted to assign the case to another state prosecutor earlier this year, Crangle said.
“Pascoe would have been an idiot to fight if he thought there were no fish on the line,” said Crangle, head of Common Cause. “I would have been shocked if there were no indictments.”
State Rep. Rick Quinn, R-Lexington, months ago was named publicly along with Merrill as possible targets of the investigation. Quinn has denied any wrongdoing.
Crangle, who has followed the probe closely, said he thinks three or four more violators will be indicted.
“My guess is (Pascoe) probably nailed the biggest culprit, in his mind,” Crangle said. “That puts enormous pressure on the lower level violators to come in and negotiate a guilty plea. That’s what you try to do. You try to get other people involved to roll over on each other and then plead guilty.”
He is not alone in waiting for the other shoe to drop.
“We’ve heard for a while that they have substantial evidence, and almost wonder why it’s taken this long,” said state Rep. Ralph Norman, R-York. “I expect you will see others that will follow.”
Staff writer Clif LeBlanc contributed.