An investigation into allegations that S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell misused campaign money is continuing despite a statement by the Charleston Republican over the weekend indicating the probe was over, according to sources familiar with the matter.
The investigation, now being overseen by 1st Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe, does not mean there will be charges against Harrell. But the investigation has not been killed, the sources said.
Now it is up to Pascoe, who has had the Harrell file for several weeks, to decide whether to seek more information, dismiss the case or seek an indictment against Harrell, the sources said.
Reached Monday afternoon by The State newspaper, Pascoe, a Democrat, declined to comment.
But those who know Pascoe said he is a good, impartial choice to handle the case, now that Republican Attorney General Alan Wilson – the original prosecutor – has stepped aside.
“Pascoe is about as nonpartisan as you can get,” said Columbia lawyer Dick Harpootlian, a former Richland County solicitor and chairman of the S.C. Democratic Party. “He has worked under me, and he’s worked under Charlie Condon, a Republican.
“He will do whatever the right thing is. He is going to make a call based on what the evidence shows or doesn’t show. When you are a prosecutor, you do what the evidence demands, not politics.”
The naming of Pascoe as prosecutor is the latest unexpected turn of events in the secretive grand jury investigation of Harrell, which exploded into public view this spring. In two historic public court hearings, Harrell’s lawyers asked a judge to rule that Wilson didn’t have the authority to launch a criminal ethics investigation of a member of the Legislature.
Last month, the S.C. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the state attorney general does have authority to conduct criminal investigations of members of the Legislature. But the Supreme Court made it clear in its decision that Harrell’s lawyers could go back to a lower court and ask that Wilson be disqualified as the prosecutor.
Wilson’s decision to step aside as prosecutor and appoint Pascoe to handle the case could undercut any effort to scuttle the investigation.
Bart Daniel, one of Harrell’s lawyers in the case, declined to comment Monday afternoon.
A spokesman for Wilson also declined comment, noting that the attorney general had been ordered by the State Supreme Court not to comment.
The investigation dates back at least to 2013, when the S.C. Policy Council – a small-government think tank – and S.C. Common Cause took concerns to Wilson’s office, including the allegation that Harrell had converted campaign money for his personal use. Wilson turned the matter over the SLED, which spent months investigating the allegations.
In January, Wilson announced the SLED investigation was over and he would use the State Grand Jury – which has the power to subpoena witnesses and compel testimony – to investigate further. Harrell immediately accused fellow Republican Wilson of being motivated by politics.
Harrell initiated court action, out of public view, to get Wilson disqualified as prosecutor. He also sought to have the investigation killed, contending the attorney general does not have the authority to investigate criminal ethics allegations against a legislator.
In March, The State newspaper revealed Harrell’s efforts to scuttle the investigation. Circuit Court Judge Casey Manning subsequently held two public hearings, ruling Wilson must end his investigation, a ruling Wilson appealed to the Supreme Court.
On Saturday, Harrell issued a statement saying the State Grand Jury investigation was at an end. But he also said Pascoe now is handling the case.
In a further wrinkle, Harrell’s son, Trey, worked for a year or so in Pascoe’s Orangeburg office as a prosecutor. Pascoe declined to comment on that relationship.
But Columbia lawyer Pete Strom, whose law practice now employs Trey Harrell, said there was nothing unusual about the younger Harrell working for a solicitor, saying that past work relationship will not affect Pascoe’s judgment.
After graduating from the Charleston School of Law, the younger Harrell clerked for a circuit judge and then did a stint with Pascoe, said Strom, who has known Pascoe for years.
Although the term of the State Grand Jury that was investigating Harrell expired at the end of June, Pascoe could ask to convene a new State Grand Jury if he thinks further investigation is necessary or wants to press charges.
Pascoe also could ask a county grand jury in the county where a violation was alleged to have taken place for an indictment if he decides to go forward with charges, Columbia criminal defense lawyer Jack Swerling.
“It wouldn’t make sense to give the case to Pascoe and not give him the authority to either move forward with formal charges or dismiss them – to bring some kind of resolution,” said Swerling.
One thing that is known, Swerling said, is Pascoe is impartial.
“He will give this a close look – and then do the right thing,” said Swerling, who also has known Pascoe for years.
Pascoe has been 1st Circuit solicitor since 2005. The circuit covers Orangeburg, Calhoun and Dorchester counties. Before that, he worked in the 5th Circuit solicitor’s office, which includes Richland County, under Harpootlian and former solicitor Barney Giese.