Ethics allegations against House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, have been referred to a state grand jury for further investigation, S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson's office said Monday.
In February, Wilson's office asked the S.C. Law Enforcement Division to review the allegations against Harrell, brought on by the S.C. Policy Council’s Ashley Landess.
Landess, the libertarian Policy Council’s president, sent Wilson a complaint last year that said Harrell may have broken state ethics laws when he reimbursed himself about $300,000 from his campaign account for flying his private plane on state business. The complaint also alleged that Harrell misused his position as speaker to benefit himself and his business.
SLED returned its report to the attorney general last month, calling it a “preliminary inquiry.”
On Monday, Wilson’s office announced that the matter would go before a grand jury for investigation. Grand jury proceedings are secret. Impaneled for one year, the state grand jury is an investigative body, said Mark Powell, spokesman for Wilson’s office.
In an email statement, Harrell said he was disappointed that the attorney general notified news media about the decision before him or his attorneys. He also said he was "shocked" by the decision.
"At every stage of this investigation it was reiterated to us that investigators have found no areas of concern," Harrell wrote. "Given every indication we have received from SLED and the Attorney General, I am disappointed and shocked by this sudden change of course."
The state grand jury has power to call witnesses to testify and to subpoena documents. It takes a vote of at least 12 of the 18 jurors to find probable cause a crime has been committed and return an indictment.
Read Harrell's statement here:
"It is disappointing that the Attorney General notified the press before contacting my attorneys or me about this decision. "This decision contradicts every indication that SLED and the Attorney General's Office have given us on the progress of this investigation. I have cooperated fully and voluntarily with this investigation, provided access to everything they requested and met with investigators for several interviews. "At every stage of this investigation it was reiterated to us that investigators have found no areas of concern. Given every indication we have received from SLED and the Attorney General, I am disappointed and shocked by this sudden change of course. "This has drawn on for far too long and been done behind closed doors. I call on the Attorney General to immediately release the entire SLED report to the public. This report contains the facts of this matter, facts that have been kept from the public and even kept from my attorneys and me."