Santorum’s S.C. PAC director overcame criminal past, facing new charge

Rick Santorum at a recent event in Columbia.

COLUMBIA — The man running likely presidential hopeful Rick Santorum’s initial efforts in South Carolina has been charged with more than a dozen primarily drug- and alcohol-related crimes going back more than a decade, according to a public records search.

Jon Parker’s criminal history includes felony convictions for intent to distribute and sell heroin and marijuana stemming from a February 2009 drug sting in Wilmington, N.C. More recently, Parker was charged with public drunkenness in Columbia in January 2014, a charge that is awaiting a jury trial, according to court records.

Parker has also worked on Attorney General Alan Wilson’s and other campaigns for statewide candidates. He has helped run campaigns for State Treasurer Curtis Loftis and Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman, among other local races. Santorum announced last month that Parker would head the South Carolina operation of his Political Action Committee Patriot Voices, according to Politico.

Parker, a 30-year-old native of Austin, Texas, said in an interview he served seven months in jail before pleading guilty when he was a senior at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington.

Parker said he is remorseful about the incident in which a undercover agent asked him where to buy drugs. He introduced the agent to a drug-dealing friend, Parker said. Prosecutors charged him with a host of related crimes but dropped them after he pleaded guilty to the primary drug charges. He and others sought to sell 150 bags of heroin, according to an arrest warrant.

Parker said he was sentenced to time served and 36 months probation.

“I have never tried to hide what happened from anyone — it’s not something I tried to publicize either,” Parker said. “I always inform the candidate, campaign, clients about what has happened and the mistakes I’ve made.

“I’ve worked in dozens of campaigns and been successful and believe I’ve earned a good reputation that hopefully supersedes the mistakes I’ve made in the past.”

Santorum PAC spokesman Matthew Beynon said in an email that the campaign knew about the charges. Parker was rehired because of good work he did for Santorum in Tennessee during his 2012 presidential run. “Rick Santorum believes in redemption and would never deny a person who made mistakes in college years ago an opportunity to prove that he has changed the course of his life,” Beynon said.

The attorney general said he does not regret his decision to hire Parker after Santorum won his 2010 primary.

“I’ve never met a person who will work harder or longer for anything than JP,” Wilson said, using Parker’s nickname. “I really want to see him move on with his life and I wanted to help with that process.”

Wilson said seeking justice means rehabilitating past offenders as well as putting people away. He said he hopes Parker serves as an example. “If we’re going to criticize giving people with a prior record jobs, then where are we as a society?” Wilson asked.

Parker worked on several campaigns under well-known Columbia political consultant Richard Quinn. Quinn said candidates should be praised for hiring Parker.

“They should be judged favorably because they believe in redemption and helping people who are trying to turn their lives around,” Quinn said. Parker said he told aides associated with Santorum’s PAC operation about his past charges. He said the 2014 drunkenness charge resulted from a misunderstanding he was confident would be “cleared up” at trial.