COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — One of South Carolina’s longest-serving state senators pleaded guilty to a corruption charge Mune 4 and resigned.
Republican Sen. John Courson entered a guilty plea to misconduct in office the same day his trial was supposed to start.
Courson, 73, faces up to 10 years in prison, but Circuit Judge Carmen Mullen delayed his sentencing to see how much he cooperates with prosecutors in the investigation of corruption at the Statehouse that has resulted in guilty pleas and resignations from three other Republican lawmakers, news outlets reported.
Courson paid his campaign consultants $248,000 out of his campaign fund, and they returned $133,000 that Courson spent on himself, prosecutors said. They haven’t specified what was bought with the campaign money converted to personal funds.
Courson’s lawyer has called the prosecution a witch hunt since his indictment more than a year ago and insisted up until June 4 that Courson wanted to go to trial and prove his innocence.
Outside the courtroom, Courson told reporters what he was trying to do was legal, he just didn’t do it the proper way.
“I should have done it differently. I agree with that,” Courson said.
Courson resigned from the Senate hours later with a letter saying he will miss his fellow senators and staff and was honored to serve the people.
“Unfortunately, I have let them down by my actions and because of that I must resign,” Courson wrote.
Elected to the Senate in 1984 from a Columbia district, Courson was its fourth longest serving member.
Courson joins former House Speaker Bobby Harrell and former House Majority Leaders Jim Merrill and Rick Quinn Jr. in pleading guilty in a corruption probe led by Solicitor David Pascoe. All are Republicans and none have served time in prison.
Quinn’s father, Richard Quinn Sr., was Courson’s political consultant. He also helped some other Republican lawmakers, including U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and Gov. Henry McMaster.
Two other former GOP lawmakers — Tracy Edge and Jim Harrison also face charges.
Pascoe has given no indication his corruption investigation is finished.
Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey said in a statement he’s glad voters in Courson’s district will finally have a voice in the Senate. Courson was suspended after his indictment in April 2017.
“John Courson’s guilty plea and resignation should give the public confidence that no one is above the law, that elected officials — especially elected officials — are accountable for misconduct,” Massey said.