Lobbyist tied to SC Gov campaign sentenced in DC - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina

Lobbyist tied to SC Gov campaign sentenced in DC

James Hirni at the SC State House on 11/17/2010. James Hirni at the SC State House on 11/17/2010.

WASHINGTON, DC (WIS) – Former Capitol Hill lobbyist James Hirni, convicted of trading bribes for legislation, was sentenced in a Washington, DC federal courtroom last month. Hirni, who now lives in Charleston, was sentenced to one day in jail and ordered to two years supervised release.

Court records show that Hirni only spent a few hours in a US Marshal's jail cell inside the DC federal courthouse and was released at 4:00 p.m. on Oct. 12.

Hirni's name entered the South Carolina Governor's race last November, after Democrat Vincent Sheheen accused Republican candidate Nikki Haley of using Hirni to organize fund raising events in Philadelphia and New York City.

In November 2008, Hirni pleaded guilty to using his position as a congressional lobbyist to buy legislation. Hirni was part of the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, broken up after federal investigators uncovered a network of DC corruption. Federal court records show Hirni bribed congressional staffers in 2003 with all-expenses-paid trips to the 2003 World Series, chauffeured staffers around New York City in a rented SUV, $400 dinners, and footed the bill for strippers.

It took three years for the court to sentence Hirni after his guilty plea in 2008. Part of Hirni's plea deal required his full cooperation with federal investigators; including acting as an informant for the feds "...working in an undercover role to contact and negotiate with others suspected and believed to be involved in criminal misconduct...," according to court records.

Just 3 weeks from election day, on October 12, 2010, Vincent Sheheen told reporters that Hirni helped Haley raise money in her bid for governor.

"Just days ago, we discovered yet another shocking revelation about my opponent in this race, Rep. Nikki Haley," said state Senator Sheheen during his October 2010 press conference. According to Sheheen, Hirni organized a Haley fundraiser Philadelphia three weeks before the 2010 governor's election. Then the next day, according to Sheheen, Hirni attend a Haley fundraiser in New York City. "What does a corrupt Washington lobbyist do while he waits to be sentenced for bribery?" asked Sheheen. "He goes to work, unbelievably, for Nikki Haley."

Sheheen said he never found any direct evidence that Hirni had worked for Haley, but questioned whether Haley should have associated her campaign with him.

Haley initially declined multiple requests to talk about Sheheen's allegations, then Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey released this statement: "Vince Sheheen's desperation is starting to get comical - no, as we have repeatedly made clear and as The State reported, there is no truth to yet another false accusation from the Senator."  

The article to which Godfrey refers does indeed report that Hirni attended the Haley fundraisers in New York and Philadelphia. It also includes Godfrey's denial that Hirni organized the fundraisers himself. The article does not specifically state Sheheen's allegations are false.

Several days after the Oct. 12 WIS report, we caught up with Haley at the WVOC studios in Columbia. Haley said Hirni was not working for her, but she admitted that the ex-lobbyist did attend two of her fund raising events, "No truth to that whatsoever," Haley said. "Again, what I would ask the media is, go look at the bases and the facts. I think people deserve that. There is no truth to this, there is no truth to any of that. WIS: "Were you there in Philadelphia and New York with him? "Yes," Haley said, "Senator Santorum did a fund raiser for me." WIS: "And James Hirni was there? "It was coordinated by Nadine somebody--James Hirni was there, but he had nothing to do with the fundraiser," Haley said.

As for Hirni's ties to the Haley campaign, Sheheen said he didn't have any direct evidence. "We know that he was there, that she was there in a fundraiser, out of state in Philadelphia and the same thing the next day in New York."  

As part of his release, Hirni must notify his South Carolina probation officers before he leaves the state. Hirni must also pay a $100 court fee.

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