John Hardee

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

COLUMBIA — A former Department of Transportation commissioner has agreed to plead guilty to intentionally altering or destroying evidence of some sort, though exactly what he did and why are unknown.

John Hardee, of Columbia, is the son-in-law of Senate Finance Chairman Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence. But Hardee's case does not involve the powerful politician, said Hardee's attorney, Jim Griffin. 

According to a plea agreement signed this week, Hardee "altered, destroyed, mutilated or concealed" a "record, document or other object" so it could not be used in an investigation. And, the agreement states, he "did so corruptly."

The documents, filed in federal court in Columbia, give no other details, and his two attorneys declined Friday to give any either. 

Evidence tampering is punishable by a $250,000 fine and up to three years in prison, according to the plea agreement.

Hardee had two stretches on the DOT board, from 1998 to 2007 and 2014 to last year. He represented the 2nd Congressional District of Aiken, Barnwell, Lexington, Orangeburg and Richland counties.

The roadway to Columbia's commercial airport is named after him. The first phase of the John N. Hardee Airport Expressway, which widened the existing two-lane Airport Road, opened in 2004. 

The federal charge ended a roughly two-year investigation, Griffin said. 

No court date has been set for the plea. 

"Mr. Hardee wants this behind him and would like to get this scheduled sooner than later," Griffin said. 

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Hardee's other attorney, Sen. Dick Harpootlian, declined to say anything. The Columbia Democrat and former state Democratic Party chairman won a special election to the Senate last November.  

The plea deal was signed Tuesday by the U.S. Attorney's Office. Hardee signed it Jan. 18. It was first reported Friday in The State newspaper.  

Leatherman's spokesman had no comment.

The Florence Republican is among the state's most powerful politicians. He's chairman of the Senate's budget-writing committee, a role that also puts him on various other state financial boards.

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.