COLUMBIA — Former state Treasurer Thomas Ravenel's bid to avoid significant prison time collapsed in federal court Friday when a judge sentenced him to 10 months behind bars.
His co-defendant and cocaine supplier, Michael L. Miller, also received a 10-month term, but it was Ravenel who left the courtroom upset after his lawyers made repeated pleas for leniency.
Defense attorney Gedney Howe suggested that if the case were being held in state court, a first-offense charge for cocaine use might draw less than a slap on the wrist.
The argument failed to fully convince U.S. District Judge Joseph Anderson Jr., who from the bench quoted one female source as saying Ravenel allegedly used cocaine at 27 of 30 parties held at his downtown Charleston home.
"We have an awful lot of cocaine parties at the house of a state constitutional officer," Anderson said.
Friday's four-hour hearing revealed a number of new insights into the drug investigation that forced Ravenel from office last year. Top among them were repeated efforts by prosecutors to hide details of what they said is an ongoing probe of the Charleston cocaine scene.
New details also came to light about Ravenel's own cocaine use, which reportedly started when he was 18 and led to a sporadic habit which, at its height, saw him use 1 to 2 grams every couple of weeks.
He also sampled other drugs, including marijuana and Ecstasy, according to portions of a report provided to the judge.
according to portions of a report provided to the judge.
Friends and family members pointed out that Ravenel's drug use was something they never saw and was out of character for a brother and friend who became a millionaire developer through his own hard work, and later a high-ranking Republican politician. One of his sisters called him "the golden boy that so suddenly fell from grace."
Ravenel in September pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy with intent to distribute cocaine. Authorities say he used and shared the drug but did not sell it, and after-hour parties were common.
The 45-year-old Ravenel, who sometimes sat alone in court, briefly addressed the judge, repeating his apologies from last year.
"I brought embarrassment, being a public official, to the state," he said, adding that voters "had a right to expect better conduct, better behavior, from me."
He declined to answer questions from the media.
His father, longtime Charleston area politician and school board member Arthur Ravenel Jr., expressed disappointment but said the family respects the judge's decision. He had called Thomas "a model son."
Ravenel now has as much as five months to report to a yet-to-be determined federal prison, which is a longer reporting period than normal. Anderson gave the additional time in case Ravenel's cooperation leads to significant arrests or drug busts that warrant a decrease in his jail time.
On Friday, authorities repeatedly praised the information Ravenel has provided so far about the Charleston drug world as they requested a downward departure from the sentencing guidelines. The 10 months was toward the bottom of the range for a first-time offender. Though rarely given, the maximum would have been 20 years. He also faces three years of probation.
Anderson additionally fined Ravenel $221,323.69 and ordered him to reimburse the state of South Carolina the $28,676.31 tab for holding a special session of the Legislature in August to pick a successor. Former Republican lawmaker Converse Chellis of Summerville replaced Ravenel.
The idea for the restitution came from the watchdog group Common Cause. South Carolina chapter Executive Director John Crangle praised the decision, saying that Ravenel made victims of more than 4 million South Carolinians in a deceitful 2006 political campaign.
"He did not represent himself as the Thomas Ravenel he really was at the time," Crangle said.
Crangle said he was disappointed that Ravenel hadn't taken out his checkbook months ago to repay the state, and he said Ravenel did so only when forced.
"Ravenel's conduct does not show true remorse," he said. "The judge basically put the screws to him."
In the federal courthouse, Ravenel and his co-defendant and drug supplier Miller briefly stood next to each as they switched seats during the changeover of their cases being called.
They didn't acknowledge each other's presence.
Miller, 26, a deejay and 2000 Hanahan High School graduate who is living in Mount Pleasant, also faced about 10-16 months for his involvement in the case. In September he pleaded guilty to conspiracy with intent to distribute cocaine and possession with intent to distribute cocaine. He received 10 months for each, to be served at the same time.
Anderson said part of the reason behind the 10-month sentence for Miller was Miller's decision not to inform his probation officer about being charged with fighting with a police officer. The incident came after a drunken taxicab ride from a Charleston bar to a Mount Pleasant restaurant in November.
The drunken swing happened three days after Anderson gave Miller a few breaks during a court proceeding, such no longer requiring him to wear an electronic monitoring device that was an earlier condition of bail.
Miller's public defender, Langdon Long, said the incident was out of character for Miller.
A government prosecutor said that after Miller was first questioned about the cocaine probe, he tried to call Ravenel about the unfolding investigation, "but Mr. Ravenel would not take his calls."
In his argument for leniency, Long called upon Miller and his family to plea before the judge. His mother, Lavern Cheek, is an Air Force veteran who works at Target and his stepfather, Calvin Cheek, is a truck driver.
Education is a priority to the family, Long said, adding that Miller has taken courses at Trident Technical College. He has a brother who recently graduated summa cum laude from the University of South Carolina, a sister who is an honor student at the Art Institute of Charleston and twin sisters at Wando High School. Miller suffered hearing loss that also has held him back, his mother said.
"This is a person with a strong network who is on his way to being a productive citizen," Long said.
Miller showed remorse. "What I did was wrong. I regret it," he said. "I did it because that's what kids do. I thought it was cool. I'm sorry. I guess that's all I have to say about it."
Even though both men received 10-month sentences, Miller could find himself free long before Ravenel. He already has spent three months in the Charleston County jail and is expected to receive credit for time served.
"We got a fair hearing," Long said.
After the hearing, Lonnie Randolph, president of the South Carolina State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said justice was served, despite concerns that Ravenel's stature would lead to an unfair advantage in the courtroom.
"Usually when that occurs, the dollar signs win," Randolph said. "The system worked the way it's supposed to work."
A third suspect, Pasquale Pellicoro, a Charleston-area wine expert, is at large after failing to report for his court arraignment. When reached by phone on the day of his first scheduled court appearance in September, Pellicoro told The Post and Courier he had sought refuge in Switzerland.