[image-1]Late last year, state Rep. Jim Merrill, once the top Republican in the House, was indicted on 30 ethics charges that could have landed him 60+ years and cost him thousands. Today he pleaded guilty to a single charge of misconduct and will serve a year of probation in exchange for helping state and federal investigators root out corruption among South Carolina’s elected officials.
The 30-count December indictment accused Merrill of illegally profiting from his position in the state legislature. In all, a grand jury accused Merrill of accepting more than $1 million from groups with a vested interest in legislation before the Statehouse. [content-1]The single charge Merrill pleaded guilty to today involves violations of state campaign finance reporting laws. The other 29 charges will remain outstanding and could be pursued if Merrill doesn’t follow through on commitments to help investigators. In court today, the judge reportedly said Merrill has been cooperating with officials since March.
Merrill is the second Charleston politician in recent years to plead guilty on ethics charges and avoid jail time in exchange for agreeing to help investigators continue their ethics dragnet against their former colleagues. In 2014, then-Speaker Bobby Harrell was forced to resign when he agreed to plead guilty after being accused of illegally using campaign money for personal expenses. Harrell was sentenced to three years probation and ordered to pay more than more than $120,000 as part of the agreement.
Merrill’s December indictment triggered an automatic suspension from office. Since that time, District 99, which sprawls across Mount Pleasant and Daniel Island into Berkeley County, has been without representation in the House. Once the seat is officially declared vacant, the State Election Commission will begin the process of a special election to fill the seat.