Rep. Jim Merrill (R - Daniel Island)
Former Majority leader and current member of the S.C. House of Representatives Jim Merrill was indicted Wednesday on 30 charges, including ethics violations and two counts of misconduct in office.
According to the indictment, Merrill is accused of using his office and position as a member of the state House to obtain “a personal profit and benefit to himself.” These alleged acts of misconduct are believed to have happened between 2002 and July 2016. Twenty-eight of the charges made against Merrill stem from the Ethics, Government Accountability, and Campaign Reform Act of 1991.
Merrill is accused of accepting payments from the South Carolina Association of Realtors and Student Transportation for America Inc. Prosecutors claim that Merrill received almost $400,000 from the realtor association and more than $172,000 from the transportation group to influence or introduce specific pieces of legislation. Merrill is also charged with failing to report that his business, Geechie Communications, allegedly accepted funds from the Association of Realtors.
In addition, the indictment states that Merrill laundered almost $150,000 from the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau to his business through his brother’s company, while serving as a member of the House Ways and Means Committee. Geechie Communications is also believed to have received $35,000 from Infilaw Management Solutions, while the company was attempting to purchase the Charleston School of Law in 2014. Merrill became chairman of the Higher Education sub-committee after allegedly receiving the money and is suspected of using his position to influence government decisions involving the purchase. The indictment also asserts that Merrill accepted $43,000 from Thomas and Hutton Engineering Company.
First Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe, who has led an ongoing probe into alleged ethics violations among state leaders, pointed out in a news release that the investigation is still underway.
“At this point in the process, the indictments are mere accusations. Mr. Merrill is presumed innocent until proven guilty,” Pascoe stated in the release.
In response to news of the indictment, House Speaker Jay Lucas suspended Merrill from the state House of Representatives effective immediately, announcing, “This suspension is in pursuant to state law and will remain in place until the matter is resolved or the seat is declared vacant.”