by Sam Spence
S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell, one of the state's most powerful leaders, was indicted today by state prosecutors on charges that he altered pilot logs, reimbursed himself for non-existent flights, misinformed state law enforcement and ethics officials, and improperly reimbursed himself tens of thousands of dollars while in office.
The nine-count indictment (posted below) issued by First District Solicitor David Pascoe consists of two counts of misconduct in office, one count of filing false campaign finance reports, and six counts of using campaign funds for personal expenses.
Charges detailed in the 18-page court filing this afternoon come after a Richland County grand jury investigation. The violations were first reported in 2012 by former Post and Courier reporters Renee Dudley and Stephen Largen, violations that were included in a formal complaint filed by the conservative South Carolina Policy Council early last year. Both Dudley and Largen left the P&C shortly after the stories broke.
The solicitor's office gained domain over the Harrell investigation earlier this summer when state Attorney General Alan Wilson stepped back from the case after several contentious rounds of legal wrangling by lawyers for Wilson and Harrell over the handling of the case. (For more on the backstory of the investigation, see former CP reporter Corey Hutchins' story from January.)
In a statement released this afternoon, Pascoe said, "At this point in the process, the indictments are mere accusations. Mr. Harrell is presumed innocent until proven guilty."
Most of the charges revolve around Harrell's alleged conversion of campaign money for personal use by reimbursing himself for the costs of flights on his personal plane between Charleston and Columbia, which he claimed in campaign finance reports were legislative expenses. On three occasions, the indictment details, Harrell paid himself back for “non-existent round trip” flights. Flight logs for Harrell's plane on FlightAware.com, which tracks commercial and private air traffic, have been locked for months.
The indictment also alleges that Harrell knowingly filed false ethics reports documenting $1,005,305 in campaign spending by the speaker between 2009 and 2012. Violations include nearly $190,000 in improper reimbursements to Harrell himself and $70,000 paid to an administrative assistant that also worked at his State Farm agency, as well as funds used to cover credit card debt and personal goods and services. The indictment alleges that Harrell hid the misconduct by changing entries in his pilot logbook to justify expenses and misinforming state law enforcement and the House Ethics Committee about the spending.
Harrell has represented the Charleston area since 1992 and has served as Speaker of the House since 2005. He is up for re-election this November against Democratic candidate Mary Tinkler.