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The John Hardee Expressway to the Columbia Metropolitan Airport is named for the former Department of Transportation commissioner who pleaded guilty in January to obstructing a federal investigation. He was sentenced Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019, to 18 months of probation and arrested a day later on the charge of soliciting a prostitute. Photo illustration by Cindi Ross Scoppe/Staff

COLUMBIA — State transportation commissioners will consider removing John Hardee's name from the Columbia airport connector following their former colleague's guilty plea on an obstruction charge and subsequent arrest on a prostitute solicitation charge.

The John N. Hardee Expressway to the Columbia Metropolitan Airport was named in 1999 and opened in 2004, during Hardee's first of two stints as a state Department of Transportation commissioner. It is among more than 1,000 bridges, interchanges and stretches of highway statewide that bear the names of local VIPs.

Such road naming is done either at legislators' request or directly by the DOT board.

The 2.8-mile expressway, which connects Airport Boulevard to Platt Springs Road, was named in the Columbia resident's honor for helping secure its funding.  

"It is our understanding it was named by the commission, and if that is the case, we’ll seek to take action" with a vote at the board's next scheduled meeting Sept. 19, said DOT Chairman Robby Robbins, who represents the coastal district that includes Charleston County. 

Robbins declined to give his own thoughts on whether the roadway should be renamed. 

Hardee, 72, was charged Thursday with soliciting a prostitute, one day after avoiding prison for obstructing a federal bribery investigation.

The solicitation misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail, means he violated his 18-month probation sentence for the obstruction charge, which included 45 days of house arrest, 40 hours of community service and a $1,000 fine.

Hardee did not respond to a text message Monday seeking comment; his cellphone wasn't accepting voicemails.   

The Columbia road isn't the only one in South Carolina with Hardee's name. A 2.5-mile section of U.S. 701 in Horry County is called the John N. Hardee Highway. Those honorary markers were requested by legislators.  

The last removal of a road designation came at the namesake's request. 

Former longtime Sen. John Courson asked the DOT in June 2018, a week after he pleaded guilty to misconduct and resigned from office, to remove signage for the John Courson Interchange, which was located where Interstate 126 ends in downtown Columbia. The sign was removed soon afterward. The Columbia Republican was accused of pocketing $160,000 in campaign cash over six years.  

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Hardee, the son-in-law of Senate Finance Chairman Hugh Leatherman — one of the state’s most powerful politicians — had faced up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for telling a contractor to delete emails about the businessman’s monthly payments to Hardee.

While the unidentified South Carolina businessman told the FBI that he paid Hardee in exchange for steering government contracts his way, investigators found no actual evidence of bribery. Hardee worked as a consultant for the witness, introducing him to various government officials.

But investigators could not show any kickbacks or contracts resulting from his monthly payments, Assistant U.S. Attorney DeWayne Pearson said in court last week.  

Hardee's attorney in the federal case, Dick Harpootlian, explained Hardee’s obstruction crime as a moment of panic, saying he didn’t even know what was written in the emails. The informant was trying to get out of his own legal troubles by pointing at Hardee, his attorney said.

Harpootlian had no comment on the latest arrest. The Richland County Sheriff's Department has not released details about Hardee's prostitution solicitation arrest. 

Follow Seanna Adcox on Twitter at @seannaadcox_pc.

Assistant Columbia bureau chief

Adcox returned to The Post and Courier in October 2017 after 12 years covering the Statehouse for The Associated Press. She previously covered education for The P&C. She has also worked for The AP in Albany, N.Y., and for The Herald in Rock Hill.