As part of his punishment for cocaine conspiracy, former state Treasurer Thomas Ravenel could be made to pay the estimated $30,000 cost of the one-day special Statehouse session needed to pick his successor, a government watchdog leader said Wednesday.
John Crangle, executive director of the South Carolina branch of Common Cause, wants the presiding judge to order Ravenel to pay restitution for the August 2007 session in which former Summerville state Rep. Converse Chellis was picked to replace him after a nasty Statehouse fight.
U.S. District Judge Joseph F. Anderson Jr. said there are no guarantees. The issue will be considered during Ravenel's sentencing at 1 p.m. Friday.
Ravenel is scheduled to be in U.S. District Court in Columbia for what would be his final appearance on the cocaine conspiracy charge that ended his brief political career. The hearing is expected to be a lengthy affair as friends, family members and his attorneys will argue that Ravenel does not deserve prison time and would be better suited with as little punishment as probation.
Federal prosecutors also are expected to soon file a request for a lesser sentence. They are basing the move on his cooperation during their investigation into the Charleston drug scene and his admission of guilt. Previous court filings have put the government's advisory sentencing guideline for Ravenel's crime at 10 to 16 months, but that is before any departures or variances are added. He also faces the chance of a significant fine.
If restitution is ordered for the one-day session, it would be a major step, Crangle said. It potentially could make other politicians — here and elsewhere — held accountable for all sorts of collateral damage caused by their misdeeds in what Crangle called "a new theory of recovery" for the injured public.
"It could become, maybe, the norm in the future," he said, in which disgraced public officials have to pay the cost of replacing themselves. Nothing like it has been uncovered during several avenues of legal research from attorneys in the state, he added.
Ravenel, a millionaire developer, was a popular star among South Carolina Republicans until June 2007 when he was indicted on one count of conspiracy to possess cocaine with the intent to distribute. He was accused of using and sharing the drug with friends after the bars of Charleston closed for the night and partyers moved to private homes. Gov. Mark Sanford suspended him from office, and he resigned the treasurer's post in July.
A month later the Statehouse battle to pick Ravenel's successor turned bitter, pitting Sanford against some members of the Legislature. At the time, Sanford tried to use the fight to advance his hopes to control the state Budget and Control Board. His goal fell out of his reach when Chellis won the treasurer's vacancy on a 122-24 vote during a one-day session in August.
Cost of the session has been estimated at around $30,000 to cover lawmakers' lodging, food and travel in the House and Senate. Some other minor business was addressed during the day, including confirmation of some government appointments.
Lawmakers in Columbia said Wednesday that if Ravenel is ordered to reimburse the state, it would be a plus. "It's very nice that the taxpayers will not have to foot that bill," said state Sen. Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston. "Based upon what you read, it will not be a hardship for him to pay."
Ravenel's co-defendant, Mount Pleasant deejay Michael L. Miller, will be sentenced for his role at the same time Friday, according to the court schedule. Miller supplied Ravenel with his drugs, authorities have said. Both men pleaded guilty in September.