John Hardee

Former Department of Transportation commissioner John Hardee. File/SCDOT/Provided

A former South Carolina transportation commissioner's "quick visit" for what he thought was a prostitute could now result in an extended stay in prison. 

Federal prosecutors recommended Thursday that John Hardee be sentenced to 10 to 16 months behind bars after he violated his parole by getting snagged in an undercover prostitution sting. 

Hardee, who served on the Department of Transportation Commission from 1998 to 2007 and from 2014 to 2018, was charged earlier this year with obstructing a federal investigation into alleged bribery. 

After pleading guilty, a federal judge issued Hardee a lighter sentence, allowing him to serve out his time under house arrest. 

That leeway ended shortly after he walked out of the federal courthouse in Columbia earlier this month. Hardee was quickly ensnared in an undercover operation by the Richland County Sheriff's Department after he allegedly attempted to solicit a deputy who was posing as a prostitute.

The evidence against Hardee included text messages showing him negotiating a "QV" or "quick visit" with the undercover officer. 

The federal prosecutors said the messages further show Hardee knew he was breaking the terms of his probation. 

“What time works for u? I am not law. Are u? Just need to be careful & discreet!" one of Hardee's earlier texts read. 

The U.S. Attorney's Office, which initially supported a lighter sentence for Hardee, harshly criticized him in its new sentencing memo for ignoring the deal he struck in federal court. 

"Hardee violated the terms and conditions of his probation less than 48 hours after sentencing, evidencing an appalling lack of respect for the law and the order of the court," the federal prosecutors wrote. "His immediate violation shows that his original sentence did not provide adequate deterrence to criminal conduct and a harsher sentence is warranted."

"His actions one day after receiving a probationary sentence show at best disregard for the court’s order and at worst a deliberate misrepresentation about his intentions," the prosecutors added. 

Hardee is currently in the Lexington County jail. Ultimately, it will be up to U.S. District Judge Terry Wooten to decide how much time Hardee spends in prison. 

A new sentencing hearing has not be scheduled. 

Correction: An earlier version of this story improperly attributed a text message to Hardee. The text message was actually sent by the Richland Sheriff's Department. 

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Reach Andrew Brown at 843-708-1830 or follow him on Twitter @andy_ed_brown.

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