The case of Bobby Harrell, the former speaker of the S.C. House who has pleaded guilty to state charges of misusing campaign money, has shed light on the use of cooperation agreements in the court.
Harrell pleaded guilty last month to state charges of misusing campaign money and agreed to resign his office. He is now locked into what The State describes as an "ironclad plea deal that requires him to tell federal and state authorities about illegal activities of others, including lawmakers."
The plea deal allowed Harrell to avoid prison, but it puts him on probation and levies $130,000 in fines and penalties. The ex-speaker has promised to assist the State Law Enforcement Division and the FBI. He is also bound to take lie detector tests to make sure he's telling the truth – under the risk of going behind bars if he fails to comply.
The State reported on how cooperation agreements of this type are seldom used in state courts, but are more commonly used in federal court, where law enforcement authorities often resort to the use of a negotiated guilty plea to see if they can get information about other peoples' criminal activities.
"I've only done a handful of these in state court," stated 1st Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe, a 20-year prosecutor assigned to the Harrell case.
The cooperation agreements are powerful and wide-ranging and prosecutors have the power to ask anything. Criminal investigations could now look at the activities of other state lawmakers.
John Crangle, state director for government watchdog Common Cause, stated in the report that Harrell's information could result in criminal charges being brought against other legislators in a roundup like Operation Lost Trust. That was a 1990s bribery scandal that entailed alcohol and drugs and ensnared 17 lawmakers. The Post and Courier describe it as the "largest legislative public corruption prosecution in U.S. history."
The latest corruption scandal could also become more widespread. "Harrell has to rat out everyone he's been involved with," said Crangle in The State report. He predicted another 15 to 20 lawmakers might be charged after the Harrell plea. "This is just the beginning. ... The government has a huge amount of leverage over this guy."
Harrell, a Charleston Republican, has pleaded guilty to six counts of use of campaign funds for personal expenses.
Circuit Court Judge Casey Manning gave Harrell six years in prison – one year for each charge. The charges against him included falsifying legislative trips in his personal plane which he would bill his campaign fund for. However, the sentence will be suspended if Harrell successfully serves three years on probation.
When federal investigators become involved in criminal activity, the consequences are often more serious for anyone who is charged, given that the prosecutor has vast resources available for pursuing a conviction and that the penalties you could receive in a sentence can have a devastating effect on your future. It's important to hire experienced Columbia federal crime attorneys to fight the charges against you. Call Masella Law at 803-748-9990.