Before the hammer fell on former state Treasurer Thomas Ravenel's cocaine use, his powerful and well-connected father warned him authorities were on his trail, according to Ravenel's first interview with investigators.
"You better watch out; SLED's following you," the younger Ravenel recalled his father telling him. "They hear you're doing coke and all this."
"Like a dad would," a State Law Enforcement Division official questioning Ravenel answers him almost sympathetically.
"Yeah," Ravenel answers. "He said SLED's following you."
The interview appears in a government transcript obtained by The Post and Courier in which the younger Ravenel describes a phone tip from his father, Arthur Ravenel Jr., a former state lawmaker and congressman who serves on the Charleston County School Board.
The interview, dated June 15, 2007, was the government's first confrontation with Thomas Ravenel, who'd been approached by agents in the Statehouse complex parking garage. Days later, he was indicted on a federal cocaine charge, triggering the end of a political career some thought would lead the next generation of Republicans.
"I guess he was right," Thomas Ravenel also tells the official.
Or instead of being right, the elder Ravenel may have hit on a fortunate coincidence. He had no way of knowing that his son was under investigation, and his comments were a bluff and a scare tactic after he'd heard rumors about his son, the SLED official who conducted the interview in June said Tuesday.
"This was a well-guarded secret," Lt. Frank O'Neal said of the drug probe. "It was entirely a bluff. His father never heard anything from SLED or any other law enforcement entity." Arthur Ravenel Jr.'s story checked out, officials said.
The elder Ravenel told a similar story Tuesday. He said he'd received a call from a friend who'd heard Thomas Ravenel might have been involved in drugs and wanted to confront him.
The transcript additionally offers a glimpse into a drug-fueled society nightlife in Charleston, alleged to stretch from the trendy Upper King Street bar district to South of Broad mansions, as agents were trying to gather as much, and as many names, from Ravenel as they could regarding the cocaine scene for an investigation that continues today.
"Well that's the thing down there. It's just like alcohol down here," O'Neal, who supervises a section of the state grand jury, says of cocaine in Charleston.
The transcripts also show that Thomas Ravenel wondered if the case was being pressed by his political enemies, prompting him to concede that he'd given up any thought of running for the U.S. Senate.
"I've been talking about running for U.S. Senate but, you know, I'm not going to. I don't run for anything ever again because, you know, somehow I feel, well wrongly feel, based on what you told me, people are out to get me, you know," he said.
O'Neal answers that politics had nothing to do with the state and federal investigation that pulled Thomas Ravenel in.
"Well, there probably are people out to get you, you know, but that's in a political realm and we don't have anything to do with that," he said.
Earlier in the exchange O'Neal also told Thomas Ravenel, "It wouldn't matter if it was you or President Bush."
In the interview, Thomas Ravenel isn't very supportive of his co- defendant and supplier, Mike Miller, a 26-year-old deejay, who was indicted on cocaine charges along with Ravenel and likewise received a 10-month sentence last week.
Thomas Ravenel says he'd seen Miller, whom he knew only as "Hash," around town and that he'd shown up to a house party at his home South of Broad. That was probably around 2005. Eventually Ravenel was buying coke from him by the gram, court records contend.
"And one time he came over to my house and, like, he wouldn't leave," Ravenel tells the official. "I couldn't get the guy outta there."
The subject of Miller's name comes up later in the interview, when O'Neal says nobody on the street knows what Hash's real name is.
"The only reason I know," O'Neal says, is "because we've been following him for the last couple years."
Thomas Ravenel responds: "Yeah. I wish y'all would have picked him up a year ago (laughs)."