COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina Treasurer Thomas Ravenel, a former real estate developer and rising political star, was indicted Tuesday on federal cocaine charges.
The millionaire — also the state chairman for former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's presidential campaign — is accused of buying less than 500 grams of cocaine to share with other people in late 2005, U.S. Attorney Reggie Lloyd said. Ravenel, 44, is charged with distribution of cocaine, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $1 million.
Giuliani's campaign sent out a prepared statement saying Ravenel had stepped down. Giuliani spokesman Elliott Bundy said he did not know when Ravenel stepped aside.
The investigation into Ravenel arose from a drug case last year in Charleston, Lloyd said. State Law Enforcement Division Chief Robert Stewart said his agents were aware of the allegations before Ravenel was elected in November. The case was turned over to the FBI on April 1 "when the investigation reached a certain level," Stewart said.
"There was nothing we could take action on prior to the election," Stewart said.
South Carolina agents turned the investigation over to the FBI because Ravenel is in charge of handling state financial decisions, Stewart said.
Indicted along with Ravenel was Michael L. Miller, who Lloyd said sold the drugs to Ravenel. Miller is in jail on separate state charges. Information about his lawyer was not immediately available.
Lloyd stressed that Ravenel isn't accused of selling drugs.
Authorities would not discuss the relationship between Ravenel and Miller. They also wouldn't give any details about what Ravenel did with the drugs other than give cocaine to other people.
Ravenel will be allowed to turn himself in at a July 9 bond hearing. The treasurer's office referred all questions to Ravenel's lawyer Joel Collins, who did not return a message left at his office.
Ravenel did not immediately respond to a message left on his cell phone. The treasurer's office referred all questions to Ravenel's lawyer Joel Collins, who did not return a message left at his office.
Gov. Mark Sanford suspended Ravenel immediately based on the serious nature of the charge. The governor said he would name an interim treasurer soon.
"These are obviously very serious allegations that we're constitutionally bound to act upon, and they'll ultimately be decided by the courts," Sanford said in a statement.
If convicted, Ravenel would lose his office. His successor would be picked by lawmakers if they were in session and the governor if they were not meeting.
Ravenel started his political career in 2004, funding his own campaign for a U.S. Senate seat. He finished a close third in the Republican primary.
Ravenel was founder of the Ravenel Development Corp., a commercial real estate development company. His father, Arthur Ravenel Jr., was a powerful politician from Charleston who served eight years in the U.S. House and is a former state representative and state senator.
State Republican Party Chairman Katon Dawson said he supported the decision to suspend Ravenel. "This is a private and legal issue and we expect it to be taken care of judiciously and in a very quick manner," Dawson said.
Ravenel is an embarrassment to the state, South Carolina Democratic Party Chairwoman Carol Fowler said in a news release. "In only a few months, Thomas Ravenel has gone from spoiled rich kid buying his way into office to common street criminal," she said.