COLUMBIA, South Carolina — Suspended South Carolina House Speaker Bobby Harrell was released on bond Monday, facing misdemeanor charges that he misused his office for personal gain and lied to law enforcement about his campaign expenses.
The powerful Charleston Republican appeared in court in Columbia, where Circuit Judge John Hayes set an $18,000 personal recognizance bond on the nine charges. That bond does not require Harrell to post any money, and Hayes said he would allow Harrell to travel to Kentucky for the University of South Carolina's football game this coming weekend.
Harrell, 58, suspended himself from office earlier this month, a day after a Richland County grand jury indicted him on nine counts: two counts of misconduct in office, six counts of using campaign money for personal use and one count of falsely reporting campaign disclosures. Each is punishable by up to one year in prison and a $5,000 fine, except the misconduct charge, which Solicitor David Pascoe said can carry a sentence of up to 10 years in prison under the common law.
During Monday's brief hearing, Pascoe also handed Harrell's attorney a flash drive he said contained 32,000 pages of documents pertaining to the case.
One count alleges Harrell reimbursed himself $3,875 for flying his family and friends to Florida in March 2009 in his private plane for a high school baseball tournament. His campaign disclosures labeled that trip "legislative travel," court documents allege.
The case has been ongoing since early 2013, when Attorney General Alan Wilson accepted an ethics complaint against Harrell from Ashley Landess of the South Carolina Policy Council — a libertarian-leaning, pro-limited-government think tank — and sent it to the State Law Enforcement Division for investigation. Wilson sent the case to the state grand jury, and Harrell asked the court to remove Wilson, saying the prosecutor tried to intimidate him during the investigation.
A lower court halted the investigation, saying the House Ethics Committee first needed to review an ethics complaint before forwarding the case to Wilson. The state Supreme Court disagreed, ruling July 9 that Wilson's probe was proper and could continue. Wilson stepped aside and transferred the case to Pascoe, the Democratic chief prosecutor for Calhoun, Dorchester and Orangeburg counties.
Harrell, speaker since 2005, has repeatedly said he did nothing illegal and previously characterized the allegations as politically motivated. He and his attorney, Bart Daniel, did not speak to reporters before leaving the courthouse.
Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP