COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP, WLTX) -- South Carolina Treasurer Thomas Ravenel has been suspended from office, following his indictment by a federal grand jury for distribution of cocaine.
"Given the grave nature of these charges and what is alleged in this indictment, we're left with no choice but to suspend Treasurer Ravenel immediately," Governor Mark Sanford said in a written release. "These are obviously very serious allegations that we're constitutionally bound to act upon, and they'll ultimately be decided by the courts."
The governor quoted Article VI, Section 8 of the South Carolina Constitution, giving him the power to suspend statewide, county or city officials indicted on criminal charges for crimes of "moral turpitude," generally understood to mean crimes that involve acts of fraud, deception or other morally culpable conduct.
Sanford said he plans to make a decision on an interim appointment as soon as possible.
The announcement of the indictment was made Tuesday at a 5 p.m. news conference.
The indictments accuse Ravenel, 44, and Michael Miller, 25, of distributing less than 500 grams of cocaine starting in late 2005. They're officially indicted on charges of conspiracy to possess and intent to distribute.
Officials say Ravenel bought the drugs from Miller to share with other people. U.S. Attorney Reggie Lloyd says Ravenel didn't sell any of the drugs. Lloyd says the investigation is just beginning.
Authorities say Ravenel will be allowed to turn himself in.
Lloyd says the investigation into Ravenel arose from a drug case last year in Charleston. State Law Enforcement Division Chief Robert Stewart says his agents were aware of the allegations before Ravenel was elected in November. But they didn't have enough information to pursue criminal charges until they turned the case over to the FBI in April.
Ravenel is scheduled for an arraignment in federal court on July 9.
Ravenel, a Republican, was elected state treasurer in 2006. His father, Arthur Ravenel Junior, was a powerful politician from Charleston who served eight years in the U.S. House and is a former state representative and state senator.
Thomas is also the founder of Ravenel Development Corp., a commercial real estate development company. As well, he serves as the state chairman for former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani's presidential campaign. Late Tuesday, Giuliani's campaign announced he stepped down from that role.
Both men face a maximum of 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine.
If Ravenel is convicted, and the General Assembly is out of session, the interim treasurer would serve until the General Assembly returns. The General Assembly would then elect a new treasurer who will serve until January 2011.
If the General Assembly is in session during the vacancy, they will elect a new treasurer who will serve until 2011.
State Republican Party Chairman Katon Dawson released the following statement:
“The charges brought against State Treasurer Thomas Ravenel today are very serious. This is a personal matter that will be dealt with through appropriate legal channels. We hope this unfortunate situation is resolved quickly.”
The South Carolina Democratic Party issued the following statement:
"In only a few months, Thomas Ravenel has gone from spoiled rich kid buying his way into office to common street criminal. He is an embarrassment to the state and an embarrassment to the Office of Treasurer. It's a shame that Grady Patterson - an absolutely honorable man and a true patriot - was replaced by Thomas Ravenel as State Treasurer."
More details to come here on WLTX.com.