COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - A grand jury has indicted well-respected and long-serving Senator John Courson. Following the indictment on Friday, Lieutenant Governor Kevin Bryant suspended Courson from serving in the Senate.
The three-count indictment asserts Courson was involved in money laundering, using another lawmaker's family business. Constituents and even political watchdog groups were stunned to hear the news.
Sen. Courson is the Republican who represents parts of Richland County in Columbia and Irmo. He's served since 1985. The counts against him now are ethics violations of common law misconduct, statutory law misconduct, and use of campaign funds for personal expenses.
Courson allegedly passed about $250,000 through State Representative Rick Quinn's (R- Lexington) father's political consulting firm, Richard Quinn & Associates, who then paid about $130,000 back to Courson in increments.
Courson denies he's done anything wrong. His attorney says the indictment is politically motivated: "This is a political partisan witch hunt. Everyone knows Senator Courson is a man of unquestionable integrity who would never use his public office for personal gain in any way. Unfortunately, in today's world any politically motivated prosecutor can go to a grand jury and get an indictment without presenting the other side of the story," Attorney Rose Mary Parham released in a statement.
"He was my senator for a number of years, and he's always been a well-respected member of the General Assembly…a Marine, and a stand-up guy. So when we heard the news, I think out of the blue it seems that he was indicted," political analyst Scott Malyerck said.
"Maybe people push the limit too much, like a small child with their parent again, and again, and again, when finally they've got so gross in their ethical behavior that it's come back to haunt them," Malyerck said.
Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey (R- Edgefield) issued this response to the indictment: "Our representative government requires the support and confidence of the public, but allegations of misconduct in office at all levels have understandably shaken the public's confidence in elected leaders. Therefore, it is important that these charges be investigated thoroughly, that the judicial process be allowed to work, and that the evidence – good or bad – be disclosed for public review."
In suspending Courson, Lieutenant Governor Bryant said, "I regret these unfortunate events and pray that these matters are resolved in a timely matter." He cites the statute calling for Courson's suspension:
Chapter 13 of Title 8 states in pertinent part:
'A member of the General Assembly who is indicted in a state court or a federal court for a crime that is a felony, a crime that involves moral turpitude, a crime that has a sentence of two or more years, or a crime that violates election laws must be suspended immediately without pay by the presiding officer of the House or Senate, as appropriate. The suspension remains in effect until the public official is acquitted, convicted, pleads guilty, or pleads nolo contendere. In the case of a conviction, the office must be declared vacant. In the event of an acquittal or dismissal of charges against the public official, he is entitled to reinstatement and back pay."
Governor Henry McMaster is a long-time friend of Courson. On Friday afternoon, he told WIS "John Courson is one of the most honorable men I have ever known."
Parham further says the indictment took only days to come down this week. She says Courson will be in court for a bond setting the week of March 27.