COLUMBIA - South Carolina's chief prosecutor has begun reviewing a state police report on ethics allegations against Speaker Bobby Harrell, but officials on Monday gave no timetable for a decision on the top Republican's case.
Attorney General Alan Wilson received a "voluminous" report from the State Law Enforcement Division on Friday, Wilson spokesman Mark Powell told The Associated Press on Monday.
At Wilson's request, state police began looking at the case nearly 10 months ago, after South Carolina Policy Council President Ashley Landess filed a complaint alleging Harrell used his office to boost his finances by using influence to get a permit for his pharmaceutical business.
The Policy Council, a libertarian think tank, also took issue with Harrell appointing his brother to a committee that screens judicial candidates and picks the top three for each seat, from which the Legislature then chooses.
At the time, Harrell called the complaint a baseless attack driven by a "personal and political vendetta."
"I'm glad the report is over at the AG's office. I'm looking forward to having all of this behind us," Harrell said Monday.
Landess said she expected a thorough investigation, given the length of SLED's inquiry.
"It's up to the AG to review that thing and make sure all of the questions are answered," she said. "They're going to be careful about reviewing it, and they should be."
Other allegations stemmed from a 2012 Post and Courier report that raised accusations that Harrell couldn't account for money withdrawn from his campaign and had used his campaign account for personal expenses. The newspaper's report pointed to generic descriptions Harrell gave on quarterly campaign filings to explain his reimbursements.
Harrell, speaker since 2005, said then that he'd followed state ethics law, which requires forms provide a "brief description" of each expense, and that he'd be more specific going forward. State law allows public officials to use campaign donations for campaigning or expenses related to their office duties, which for Harrell are broad.
On Monday, Powell declined to speculate how long the office would consider the report or what its recommendations could be.
"This is being handled in the same process, the same manner, as all such reports from SLED," Powell said.
Last year, former Lt. Gov. Ken Ard resigned and pleaded guilty to misdemeanor ethics violations. That came nine months after Ard paid a $48,000 fine to the state Ethics Commission. Wilson then formed a task force to review the case, and he and Keel agreed in July 2011 to send it to the state grand jury.
In 2009, former Attorney General Henry McMaster asked SLED to investigate former Gov. Mark Sanford's travel records, following his admission of an extramarital affair with a woman in Argentina. Then-SLED Chief Reggie Lloyd quickly cleared his boss, saying a preliminary review of five trips offered nothing on which to build a case.
Months later, however, Sanford agreed to pay more than $70,000 in ethics fines - the largest in state history - to resolve dozens of charges by the state Ethics Commission, after AP investigations raised questions about his use of state, private and commercial aircraft.
John Crangle of Common Cause, who previously called for Harrell to quit his leadership role during the investigation, said he suspected the report on the powerful Republican would be mild and that there wouldn't be enough in the report to justify prosecuting the speaker. During a recent meeting with the attorney general's office over the investigation's status, Crangle said Wilson referenced the vagueness of state ethics law.
"If my reading is wrong, then maybe something more serious will be in it," Crangle said.
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