FLORENCE, S.C. - A lawyer for former South Carolina House member Thad Viers said Viers may not have realized what he was doing was wrong when he moved around the assets of a businessman an insurance company was pursuing after the businessman defaulted on a multi-million dollar paving contract.
Viers pleaded not guilty Thursday during his arraignment in federal court in Florence. Prosecutors said Viers, who is a lawyer, laundered money and lied to IRS agents in an attempt to hide money from the insurance company looking to get paid back for the $6 million paving project on Interstate 95 it guaranteed a few years ago.
The businessman, Marlon Weaver, pleaded guilty to money laundering in 2013 and is helping authorities as he awaits sentencing. Viers faces decades in prison if convicted of all the charges.
But Viers' lawyer said his 36-year-old client may not have realized he was breaking the law because South Carolina's two law schools don't do a good job training new lawyers on how to handle complex financial matters. He said Viers' nearly decade-long service in the state House also kept him from learning what he needed to know.
"Did he know what he was doing was wrong, if it was wrong?" attorney Pete Strom asked reporters outside the courthouse.
Along with Weaver and Viers, Strom said the other person involved in the transactions was Archie Evans. Evans was also in court Thursday facing arraignment on an unrelated charge that he tried to bring a gun into the same federal courthouse last month when he was being sentenced on a mail fraud charge.
"They're going to need somebody to testify," Strom said of federal prosecutors. "Guess what? The two people who are talking about him are convicted felons."
Weaver listed ownership in a marina and several investments when he was given the paving contract. Viers helped move those assets to Weaver's daughters, and Weaver backdated the paperwork so it looked like the money was transferred before the default, according to the indictment.
Viers also lied and told an IRS agent that Weaver never told him he was trying to hide the assets, according to the indictment.
Viers served in the state House from 2003 until 2012. He also was a front runner for South Carolina's new U.S. House seat formed after the 2010 Census before legal troubles derailed him.
Authorities said a former girlfriend went to police with a three-ring binder detailing dozens of phone calls, texts and emails from Viers after she told him she didn't want to speak to him again. Viers resigned from the state House after his arrest and pleaded guilty to second-degree harassment in January. He remains on probation.
In 2007, Viers pleaded no contest to unlawful communication and was fined $500 for threats made to a man who was dating Viers' estranged wife at that time.
Viers' attorney, fellow state Rep. Todd Rutherford, said after that plea that the charge was an attempt to get back at Viers, who acted "under the influence of love."
Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP