Lawmaker pleads guilty to misconduct, agrees to reveal all known - - Columbia, South Carolina

Lawmaker pleads guilty to misconduct, agrees to reveal all known illegal State House activity

Jim Merrill at at December 2016 court hearing. (Source: WIS) Jim Merrill at at December 2016 court hearing. (Source: WIS)

Former South Carolina House Majority Leader Jim Merrill has pleaded guilty to one count of misconduct in office and was forced to resign as part of a plea deal.

In his court hearing Friday morning, Merrill entered the guilty plea on only one count of the 30 counts that were lobbed against him last year as part of a probe into possible corruption at the State House. 

Merrill was sentenced to 12 months probation.

The investigation, spearheaded by First Circuit David Pascoe, has also ensnared others such as Sen. John Courson and Rep. Rick Quinn.

According to attorneys, Merrill met with law enforcement back on March 31 and gave an interview in regard to the investigation. Pascoe said Merrill was "forthright" in providing information pertinent to the case.

Merrill resigned from his seat in the House on Thursday night as part of his plea deal. That deal also must reveal all illegal activity in the State House that he was aware of at the time of his service.

If Merrill sticks to the deal, the 29 other charges against him will be dropped.

Merrill was indicted in December 2016 on 30 ethics violations.

The grand jury indictments alleged Merrill's company, Geechie Communications, took hundreds of thousands of dollars from entities such as the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, the South Carolina Manufacturer's Alliance and the South Carolina Association of Realtors in exchange for favorability in the State House as far back as 2002. 

One accusation finds Merrill's company received $391,174.95 from the state Realtors group and failed to report it. 

Geechie Communications also allegedly accepted $276,561.03 from the House Republican Caucus and more than $84,021.61 from the Palmetto Leadership Council, a political-action committee with ties to former state House Speaker Bobby Harrell. 

Merrill's attorney, fellow lawmaker Leon Stavrinakis, stood with him in court.

"He's doing the right thing," Stavrinakis said. "He understands the mistake he's made in failing to report these payments."

Pascoe's investigation, meanwhile, continues.

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