The Buzz

Ex-lawmaker charged with inappropriately touching staffer


Former S.C. Rep. Nelson Hardwick, R-Horry, has been indicted on charges that he used his elected position to lure a House of Representatives staffer to his legislative office earlier this year and to “inappropriately touch her against her will,” the S.C. attorney general’s office announced Monday.

A Richland County grand jury indicted Hardwick Oct. 22, charging him with one count of misconduct in office, a misdemeanor offense that carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison. The indictment wasn’t announced until Monday.

Hardwick, a 64-year-old engineer from Surfside Beach, resigned from the House in May, in the middle of his sixth term.

At the time, House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, said an investigation by his office had found merit to a sexual-harassment allegation against Hardwick. The speaker’s office also turned over the investigation to law enforcement. The investigation was conducted by the State Law Enforcement Division.

Efforts to reach Hardwick were unsuccessful. However, his attorney said the former lawmaker would fight the charges.

“We were made aware of the indictment earlier today and intend, on Mr. Hardwick’s behalf, to defend any and all accusations of criminal activity,” attorney L. Morgan Martin said Monday in a statement emailed by his legal secretary.

A spokesperson for Lucas said Monday the speaker had no comment on Hardwick’s indictment, noting he no longer is a member of the House.

However, when Hardwick resigned in May, Lucas issued a statement saying: “Any inappropriate activity related to the men, women and staff that serve in the House chamber has been and will continue to be investigated thoroughly and expeditiously. Each of us have been entrusted with the opportunity to serve the public and that trust must never be called into question.”

State Rep. Chandra Dillard, D-Greenville, who chairs the Legislature’s Women’s Caucus, applauded the House’s handling of the issue, encouraging women in any organization to report incidents “if they feel they have been made to feel uncomfortable.”

Russell Fry, a 30-year-old Republican attorney, won a special election in September to fill the District 106 vacancy created by Hardwick’s resignation.

Hardwick was chairman of the House Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs Committee for four years until late last year, when he was appointed to the House’s powerful budget-writing Way and Means Committee.

On the agriculture panel, Hardwick was known for his run-ins with some witnesses who testified before the committee.

"I often noticed disrespect on Hardwick’s part for citizens testifying before his committee, myself included,’’ environmentalist Shelley Robbins said earlier this year.

Only one of the six bills that Hardwick sponsored won passage in the House in the legislative session that ended in June.

The 2011-12 session was Hardwick’s most productive, sponsoring eight bills that became law, including stiffer penalties for human trafficking and new regulations on abandoned boats.

The Associated Press contributed. Cassie Cope: 803-771-8657, @cassielcope

Misconduct in office

Former state Rep. Nelson Hardwick, the Horry County Republican whose indictment was announced Monday, resigned in May. A look at other S.C. lawmakers and constitutional officers who recently resigned after allegations of misconduct in office:

Former Lt. Gov. Ken Ard, R-Florence

Ard resigned in 2012 and was sentenced to five years probation, a $5,000 fine and 300 hours of community service for spending campaign money for his personal use. Ard funneled at least $75,000 of his own money to others so they could give donations to his campaign in their names, Attorney General Alan Wilson said at the time. Ard also gave himself $87,500 in the names of 27 people who were unaware they were being listed as contributors, Wilson said. The contributions made it appear that Ard had strong fund-raising support. He also used campaign money to buy family members gifts.

Former state Sen. Robert Ford, D-Charleston

Ford was given a suspended seven-year prison sentence in May for using thousands of dollars in campaign contributions for personal expenses. Ford, who resigned his Senate seat, also was sentenced to five years’ probation and 350 hours of community service. He also has to pay $69,383 in restitution to the state’s general fund. Prosecutors said Ford, 66, used campaign money to pay for gym memberships, daily expenses, adult-entertainment gifts, cash, clothing and car payments.

Former S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston

Harrell pleaded guilty last year to state charges of misusing campaign money and resigned from the S.C. House. He avoided prison but was put on probation and ordered to pay $130,000 in fines and penalties. He also is required to tell federal and state authorities about illegal activities of others, including lawmakers. In one instance, prosecutors said Harrell billed his campaign $3,874 for a March 2009 plane trip to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., as a campaign expense when the trip was to attend a high school baseball game.

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