A lawyer for former state Rep. Thad Viers, who is facing federal money laundering and other charges, said Thursday that he does not believe any crime has been committed and that his client might be the target of accusations by a pair of convicted felons hoping to get reduced sentences.
“At the end of the day, what you have here is two convicted felons who are putting words into his [Viers’] mouth,” said Pete Strom, a Columbia lawyer representing Viers. “In the federal system, anyone who has been convicted can get their sentence cut if they cooperate with the government.”
Viers pleaded not guilty to 14 charges of racketeering-related bank transactions, money laundering and lying to an IRS investigator during an arraignment hearing in federal court here Thursday. Magistrate Judge Kaymani West set an unsecured bond of $25,000 for Viers as he awaits further court action. The case stems from allegations that Viers tried to help a client hide assets from an insurance company that was trying to collect money on a construction bond.
Viers, 36, declined to comment on the case, however, Strom said the two men named as co-conspirators in the case lack credibility and are implicating Viers to help themselves.
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One of those men, former Baptist preacher Archie Evans, was in court Thursday for a separate arraignment hearing on charges that he tried to sneak a gun into the courthouse during a July sentencing hearing on fraud charges. Evans is serving a seven-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to running a Ponzi scheme that stole $3.7 million from parishioners and others. Evans was shackled and wearing orange prison garb Thursday as he pleaded not guilty to the gun charge, which could add another 10 years to his prison term.
The other man, building contractor Marlon Weaver, was one of Viers’ former law firm clients. Weaver has pleaded guilty to one felony money laundering charge and is awaiting sentencing. Weaver was supposed to be sentenced on Aug. 7 but that hearing was canceled just days before the indictment against Viers was issued. In his request to delay the hearing, defense lawyer Morgan Martin said Weaver’s sentencing should be rescheduled because his client is still cooperating with the government.
Weaver admits he tried to hide money he made from the 2010 sale of Bucksport Marina from an insurance company that had provided a $6 million bond for a road paving project his company was supposed to complete. Among the assets Weaver pledged as security for the bond was his one-fifth interest in the marina. Weaver is accused of back-dating documents to make it appear as if he had transferred his interest in the marina to his daughters prior to his company’s default on the road paving project.
Prosecutors say Viers knew Weaver was trying to hide the money and helped him form a limited liability corporation that purportedly transferred Weaver’s interest in the marina to his daughters. An indictment states Viers also made 12 withdrawals totaling $524,000 from his law firm’s trust account and gave that money to Weaver. Prosecutors say Viers knew that money came from Weaver’s illegal activity related to the marina sale.
They also say Viers lied to an IRS investigator earlier this year when he said he was not aware that Weaver was trying to hide assets from the insurance company.
Strom said Viers wasn’t lying because he didn’t know about Weaver’s scheme and that he was simply returning funds from his trust account that belonged to Weaver -- something lawyers do on a daily basis.
“There is certainly nothing wrong with a lawyer taking money in trust for a client,” Strom said, adding that Viers “was returning the money back to the rightful owner,” which was Weaver.
Strom said the lying charge “could have been a misunderstanding about what was asked” by the investigator.
Evans is named as a co-conspirator because Weaver invested money -- including funds from the marina sale -- into the Ponzi scheme, which was called Gold & Silver LLC. Weaver listed his investment in Gold & Silver among the assets securing the insurance company’s bond and then backdated documents transferring the investment to his daughters when the road paving project fell through. Prosecutors say Viers conspired with Evans to help Weaver hide his assets.
Strom said Viers did not conspire with Evans and that Weaver simply might have been duped by the former Baptist preacher.
Strom also said that he is not aware that Viers’ case is linked to any larger investigation, such as one involving political donations linked to the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce and the passage in Myrtle Beach of a 1 percent sales tax for tourism promotion that benefits the chamber.
“This is not part of any bigger agenda by the government,” he said.
The Republican Viers served in the S.C. House of Representatives from 2003-12, representing District 68 which includes Socastee. A graduate of Socastee High School and the University of South Carolina law school, Viers was a front-runner for the open U.S. House District 7 seat in 2012 before withdrawing from the race when he was charged with stalking a former girlfriend. Viers remains on probation from the stalking charge.
No further court hearings are scheduled, although Strom said he expects the case will go to trial by December. Viers faces up to 145 years in prison for the 14 felony charges.