Five More Lawmakers Charged in Bribery Scandal
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) _ A federal grand jury on Friday indicted five more legislators on charges involving bribery and drugs, bringing to 10 the number of lawmakers snared by an FBI investigation of the South Carolina Statehouse.
In addition to the legislators, a registered lobbyist was indicted on a drug possession charge.
The indictments grew out of an FBI probe into vote-bying in the South Carolina General Assembly. Of five legislators charged in August, three have pleaded guilty and another is expected to plead guilty next week.
The indictments are beginning to raise questions at the Statehouse about the impact of the investigation on black lawmakers. Four of the 10 legislators who have been indicted, including three of the five indicted Friday, are black. There are 19 black legislators in the General Assembly.
The legislators charged Friday with violating the Hobbs Act, a federal anti-bribery law, were Reps. Thomas Limehouse, Ennis Fant, Larry Blanding and B.J. Gordon. All but Limehouse are black.
In addition, Rep. Donna A. Moss was charged with misdemeanor cocaine possession. She resigned her seat Friday.
House Speaker Bob Sheheen suspended the indicted lawmakers Friday. House rules require the suspensions.
Limehouse, 31, was charged in a three-count indictment with two violations of the Hobbs Act. He was accused of accepting $2,000 from Ron Cobb, a lobbyist who worked undercover for the FBI in the sting operation known as ″Operation Lost Trust.″
Limehouse, who dropped a re-election bid last month, also was charged with conspiracy to solicit bribes and obstruction of justice. His lawyer, Andy Savage, said Limehouse intended to plead innocent.
″He is adamant that he did not commit any criminal acts, and from the evidence that’s been presented to us, we believe that reasonable people would reach the same conclusion,″ Savage said.
Fant, 29, Blanding, 37, and Gordon, 57, were charged together in one count of conspiracy to violate the Hobbs Act. Each was charged separately with accepting bribes.
Violations of the Hobbs Act carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Attempts to obtain comments from the three were unavailing.
A person who answered the phone at Fant’s business refused to take a message, and Fant’s home telephone went unanswered. Gordon did not return a telephone message left at his home. Blanding refused comment Friday; he had said earlier that he was innocent.
Mrs. Moss, 36, is charged with possession of cocaine during the 1989 Legislative session.
The representative, who was running unopposed for re-election, admitted in a statement to The Gaffney Ledger that she had used cocaine on one occasion.
″I made a grave mistake ... and I must pay for my mistake,″ she wrote.
Mrs. Moss’ attorney, Wade S. Weatherford III, said she would plead guilty to the misdemeanor charge at a later date.
Also charged is lobbyist James Madison Brown V, on one count of misdemeanor possession of marijuana in September of 1989. Brown lobbies for the S.C. Credit Union League.
A growing chorus of other black legislators and activists have increased criticism in recent days that the FBI investigation was racially biased, if not racially motivated.
In addition to the four blacks already indicted, others have been implicated in court papers as ″conspirators″ with Rep. Luther Taylor in a scheme to solicit bribes.
U.S. Attorney Bart Daniel and other prosecutors have repeatedly insisted the investigation had no racial bias or motivation. Virtually all the state’s white political leaders have said they do not see a racial bias.
But black leaders also have begun worrying about the absence of black members in the General Assembly during the 1991 legislative session. Black lawmakers hope to map out a congressional district during reapportionment next year that could result in the election of a black.
The Coalition For Human Development & Progressive Change, a state group led by a former state campaign manager for Jesse Jackson, called on any black legislators indicted Friday to resign so they can be replaced.
″It would not be in the long-term interest of the black community for seats to be vacant while individuals go on trial,″ the coalition said in a statement released Thursday evening.