The State Law Enforcement Division released a 42-page report on ex-House Speaker Bobby Harrell’s public-corruption investigation, giving the public more insight into why the Charleston Republican ended up in hot water.
Harrell maintained that he was innocent and under politically motivated attacks, up until the point he pleaded guilty in court to six of nine public corruption charges brought against him for misconduct in office and violating state ethics laws.
Here’s a closer look at the campaign accounting that led to Harrell’s downfall:
SLED: Harrell fibbed about expenses
On Sept. 19, 2012, Harrell wrote the House Ethics Committee that he was giving his campaign account $22,955 back of the nearly $300,000 he had reimbursed himself from his campaign account from 2009-13.
Harrell wrote that letter just days before a reporter published the first news article about the hundreds of thousands of dollars Harrell reimbursed himself from his campaign account.
In the letter, Harrell said he was paying the money back because, while he was “confident that these expenses are legitimate campaign expenditures,” he had misplaced “the necessary supporting documentation and receipts related to specific campaign expenditures from my campaign account.”
But investigators said his excuse was flawed – they had, in hand, personal credit card statements from Harrell that detailed those expenses whose records he said he lost.
Harrell also maintained that none of the expenses was personal. They included:
• Six purchases for a trip to Martha’s Vineyard for Harrell, his wife and daughter – $3,880
• Three purchases at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, Fla. – $340
• A hotel bill, rental car, and bills at a restaurant and upscale bar in San Francisco and the Bay Area – $971
• Gemco Aviation Service, North Lima, Ohio – $827
• A PayPal purchase – $3,760
Working for the campaign
Harrell also reimbursed himself $70,286 from 2009-12 to cover 60 percent of what he paid the administrative assistant for his private State Farm Insurance business. Harrell said his assistant spent 70 percent of her time on campaign or S.C. House-related business.
Harrell also reimbursed himself about $615 an hour to fly himself on state business – that total did not include a pilot’s charge and was less than what it would cost to charter a private plane, he told investigators.
Between 2009-12, Harrell reimbursed himself $93,959 for airplane expenses, while collecting $89 a week in mileage reimbursement for the cost of one round-trip between the State House and his Charleston home, totaling $6,853 between November 2009 and March 2013.
One trip included a flight to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for a baseball tournament involving a local high school. Harrell gave the coach’s wife and siblings of two players a lift. Harrell said it was an ordinary expense of his office: “Going to Florida was a ‘see and be seen’ trip with my constituents,” he said.
The actual operating costs of the airplane amounted to about $112 an hour for fuel, oil, oil changes, engine and prop reserves, the report says. But Harrell also had his campaign help pay for his insurance, maintenance, property taxes, data cartridge updates, interest expense, airplane hangar fee and depreciation expenses.
Harrell also reimbursed himself from his campaign account for food, travel and lodging while he was in Columbia on General Assembly business, while collecting $27,772 in subsistence payments for food and lodging from the state meant to cover the same expenses.
Harrell paid E System Solutions $22,780 for working on his wireless network at his Charleston office, his home office and “for his staff in Columbia to be able to access his calendar and contacts,” according to the SLED report.
But investigators flagged six invoices for work done at the Harrell’s house that clearly fall outside that description.
E Systems Solutions also set up Harrell’s wife’s new computer, checked the computers at the residence, troubleshot when the wireless network at home wasn’t working, worked on Harrell’s son’s computer when its hard drive died and fixed his Internet connection, set up printers on Mrs. Harrell’s computer, and reconnected Harrell’s daughter’s Nintendo Wii gaming console to the network.
Wanted: DSS director focused on children
Now that the 2014 election is behind her, Gov. Nikki Haley said she is on the hunt for a new leader for the state’s child-welfare agency.
The Department of Social Services’ previous director, Lillian Koller, resigned in June under intense scrutiny and charges that heavy worker caseloads were putting children at risk.
Having focused on moving people from welfare-to-work for her first term, Haley said she’s looking for something new in the next director: Someone who will “really focus on child services ... and really kind of see what we can do to help the social workers and get them stronger.”
Haley said the media spotlight has been hard on the search.
“It has scared away a lot of people that I think would have been good, but at the same time, we’ve got to find someone that is as comfortable with the public side of it as they are with actually running the agency.”