Ravenel co-defendant flees

Pasquale Pellicoro

Pellicoro, suspect in cocaine case, claims he is staying in Switzerland

COLUMBIA — The Mount Pleasant wine merchant indicted in the Thomas Ravenel cocaine case is on the run.

And, if his story is true, he's in Switzerland.

Pasquale Pellicoro was a no-show for his arraignment here Wednesday on a charge of distributing cocaine, prompting U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph McCrorey to issue a warrant for his arrest.

Hours later, Pellicoro, 53, told The Post and Courier during a phone interview that he couldn't find a lawyer to take his case, so he opted to leave the country about three days ago.

He said he's in Switzerland, and that he's not coming back until he feels safe.

"If I feel secure and my rights are protected, yes," he said.

The only proof he could offer of his location was the phone bill the newspaper would receive in a couple of weeks.

Pellicoro is a native of Italy and is thought not to be a U.S. citizen. He would not have been required to surrender his passport before the arraignment, officials said.

Pellicoro's flight overshadowed a fast-moving day in the Ravenel case in which co-defendant Michael Miller, 25, a deejay whom authorities said supplied Ravenel with cocaine, finally was freed on bail after months in the Charleston County Detention Center.

McCrorey granted Miller a $25,000 secure bond, with Miller's mother, Lavern Cheek of Mount Pleasant, using a parcel of property on Edisto Island she owns worth $32,700 as collateral. Miller pleaded not guilty to nine counts of cocaine distribution in federal charges that have

replaced a state case against him.

Miller was expected to walk out of jail late Wednesday.

Ravenel, 45, is expected to plead guilty today to cocaine distribution under 100 grams as part of a cooperative plea arrangement his lawyers hope will avoid jail time. Ravenel, a multimillionaire Charleston developer, resigned as treasurer in July after less than eight months on the job after the cocaine allegations surfaced. He received in-patient care at facilities in Arizona and New Mexico but has not specified the type of treatment he received. Prosecutors say Ravenel shared the drug but did not sell it.

The state Legislature elected former Summerville Rep. Converse Chellis on Aug. 3 to replace Ravenel.

Wednesday's arraignment would have been Pellicoro's first court appearance since he was named in a superseding cocaine indictment Aug. 22 in the Ravenel case. During his interview with The Post and Courier, he spoke briefly of his relationship with Ravenel, saying it dated back seven years. The two met at a language school where Pellicoro was instructing him in French, he said.

He said he got to know Ravenel through a circle of friends who were interested in the arts and would meet to share stories. They came from all over, he said, including Atlanta, Los Angeles and Paris.

"Thomas was always mixing people together," Pellicoro said. He has "always been very eclectic." Many different languages were spoken in his house, he said.

One routine was to get together at friends' homes, including Ravenel's, after Charleston's bars closed at 2 a.m, he said.

Pellicoro declined to discuss specifics of the allegations against him but said that sometimes at house parties, people would go into a bathroom in groups of twos or threes. He never "really saw" Ravenel do cocaine, he said.

"I don't even know what I was doing wrong," Pellicoro said of the federal cocaine distribution charge against him. He said he did not use cocaine.

Pellicoro also confirmed that investigators presented him names of some of the people they were interested in.

"Some were close to me; some I didn't know at all," he said.

Pellicoro moved to the United States in 1994 on a work visa and handled Charleston-area accounts for the Greenville-based wine wholesaler Champagne and Cotton Inc., according to a 2003 court case.

Most recently, he became known for sponsoring wine tastings at restaurants around Charleston. The owner of one local wine store said Wednesday the allegations of drug use don't fit the man. "He knew a lot about wine," said the owner, who identified himself only as Michael. "I cannot believe it."

Pellicoro's second wife filed for divorce last month after six years of marriage, according to Charleston County records. She declined comment Wednesday.

Pellicoro said the drug allegations have destroyed his business and he's lost clients. There might not be anything in Charleston for him to come back to, he said.

"I lost my life there because of that," he said.

Pellicoro said he has told a State Law Enforcement Division agent of his whereabouts. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office said Wednesday afternoon that officials hope to locate Pellicoro soon. Agents "are working to identify his location as we speak," he said.