COLUMBIA — State Law Enforcement Division agents have begun investigating allegations that House Speaker Bobby Harrell used his campaign account and legislative office for personal gain, the agency confirmed Thursday.
S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson last month asked SLED to conduct a preliminary inquiry into a complaint against Harrell filed by S.C. Policy Council President Ashley Landess.
SLED spokesman Thom Berry said Thursday the agency does not identify the names or numbers of agents assigned to specific cases.
But S.C. Common Cause Executive Director John Crangle said SLED told him this week that four agents, two each in Charleston and Columbia, have been assigned to handle the investigation of Harrell.
Crangle said he was told Lt. Michael Green is spearheading the inquiry.
Harrell, a Charleston Republican, has retained attorney Gedney Howe of Charleston as outside counsel.
Howe said he and Harrell are longtime friends, and that the House speaker asked to work with him as he faces scrutiny from SLED.
“I am a sounding board,” Howe said.
Howe has represented high-profile political clients before, including former state Treasurer Thomas Ravenel and former state Rep. Tim Wilkes of Winnsboro. Ravenel resigned in 2007 after he was indicted on federal charges of cocaine possession and distribution.
Wilkes was the only lawmaker prosecuted but found not guilty during the “Operation Lost Trust” corruption scandal that shook the state more than two decades ago.
Berry said in any investigation SLED develops a case file. If warranted, the agency then presents the file to the appropriate prosecutorial authority, whether a local solicitor's office, the state attorney general's office or the U.S. attorney's office.
A significant factor in determining which authority to turn the case over to is where the request for the investigation came from, Berry said.
Harrell has called the complaint by Landess “a baseless attack that is driven by personal and political vendetta.”
Landess' complaint alleges, among other things, that the speaker may have used his office to benefit a family business and campaign funds for personal use.
Harrell's spokesman Greg Foster said Thursday that the speaker is in compliance with the state's ethics act and that the Policy Council has a history of political attacks against Harrell.
Previous version of this story had an incorrect first name for former state Rep. Tim Wilkes. The Post and Courier regrets the error.