Crime & Courts

Lawmakers trying to expedite money laundering law that goes into effect June 9

Suspended Sen. John Courson greets then-Lt. Gov. Ken Ard in the Senate chambers Aug. 25, 2011.
Suspended Sen. John Courson greets then-Lt. Gov. Ken Ard in the Senate chambers Aug. 25, 2011. File photo.

A House panel gave preliminary approval – then reversed course – to a bill that speeds up the enactment of the state’s money laundering act passed last year.

That act outlawing money laundering goes into effect June 9, contingent on the writing of civil regulations to support the law.

But those regulations are more than a year away from being complete. The bill by Rep. Alan Clemmons, R-Horry, discussed Thursday addresses the delay by carving out a provision to allow prosecutors to charge would-be money launderers sooner.

“There is a part of the bill that we passed that is a general authorization to prosecute money laundering crimes in South Carolina,” Clemmons said. “This (new) bill would speed up the ability to prosecute those general money laundering crimes.”

Legislators serving on a House panel that debated the new bill, however, worried over the implications of the proposed changes on the law already set to go into effect. They argued the language of the law that passed last year is too broad as written.

Though they first voted to advance it, the new bill was recalled so that legislators could receive additional testimony and an explanation of its impact during a future hearing.

Delaying the advancement of the bill comes a week after a veteran Sen. John Courson, R-Richland, was indicted on misconduct in office charges on allegations that experienced prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys say have elements of money laundering.

Legislators stressed the implications of the proposal discussed Thursday on political activity was not a thought until the issue was brought to their attention.

Creighton Waters, the assistant state attorney general who addressed the panel, said he could not comment on the implications of the law on potential probe-related cases.

“Money laundering would apply to financial transactions that are knowingly done to further any sort of criminal activity,” Waters said.

The law’s broad definition is what government watchdogs like John Crangle, the government relations director for the S.C. Progressive Network, say South Carolina has sorely lacked so that prosecutors could go after government corruption.

“It’s very important that this piece of legislation is put into effect,” Crangle said.

But House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, D-Richland – who has previously worked as a prosecutor and now a criminal defense attorney – warned against “expanding criminal laws now and not knowing why we’re doing it.”

“Before I even saw the political (probe-related) issue of it, it was more of, I don’t want the statewide grand jury or the Attorney General’s Office to be able to use money laundering at every level where they want to go in where somebody wrote a check for something and got cash for it,” Rutherford said.

“I don’t even know what the definition for money laundering is nor did I get a satisfactory answer presented this morning,” Rutherford added.

Cynthia Roldán: 803-771-8311, @CynthiaRoldan