Former representative Viers begins 3-year prison sentence on money laundering charge

Published: Apr. 7, 2015 at 7:57 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 23, 2015 at 2:44 PM EDT
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FLORENCE, SC (WMBF) – Former state lawmaker Thad Viers was sentenced to 37 months in prison and $875,000 in restitution at a federal courthouse in Florence Tuesday after pleading guilty to one count of money laundering in federal court in April.

On Friday, Viers reported to the U.S. Marshals to begin his prison sentence, as required by the court. He will be transferred to the Florence County Detention Center Friday night to await a prison assignment from the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Some people spoke on Viers' behalf, including Myrtle Beach City Councilman Randall Wallace.

"We were hoping that he would get probation,  I think it's ridiculous that Marlon Weaver got a year and a day and he got three, that's just not fair, when you look at it on face value," Wallace said.

The other charges in the 14-count indictment have been dismissed, but Viers agreed to pay full restitution to the victims of his alleged criminal activity.

Viers was scheduled to be sentenced at 1 p.m. Tuesday at the John L. McMillan Federal Building in Florence before Judge Bruce Howe Hendricks, according to court documents.

Viers' attorney, Trey Cockrell explained two objections to Judge Hendricks during court. One being his client, Thad Viers, did not abuse his position as a state representative or his knowledge of being an attorney to aid him with the crime. The second, that Viers had a minor role in the crime.

Judge Hendricks overruled both objections, stating Viers did abuse the trust he held from both being a state representative and attorney to commit the crime. Hendricks also stated Viers should have respected the law, instead of using it to commit such a crime.

Cockrell said more than one hundred letters were written on Viers behalf. Several of those people spoke in court. Many of the people either grew up with Viers or have known him throughout his career as an attorney and state representative.

Viers apologized to the court, saying "I love South Carolina, I'm a proud American, and I'm ashamed of my actions." Viers also thanked those who were there to speak on his character and support him through what he called his most difficult time.

According to a press release released earlier this year from the US Attorney's office, US District Judge Hendricks of Charleston accepted the guilty plea, and will impose the sentence after she reviews the pre-sentence report prepared by the US Probation Office.

The plea agreement signed by Viers states that he agrees to plead guilty to one of 12 counts of money laundering, which charges him with "engaging in monetary transactions in property derived from unlawful activity." The indictment alleges that on October 4, 2011, Viers withdrew $50,000 from a First Citizens trust account, and that this money was derived from mail fraud.

Officials say in 2008, Marlon Weaver, president and owner of Weaver Company, Inc., a construction company in Conway, was required to pay nearly $6 million dollars to SafeCo Insurance Company after the construction company was awarded a contract with SCDOT to perform construction on Interstate 95. According to the Department of Justice, "Weaver back-dated documents to make it appear that he had transferred his interest in the Gold and Silver, LLC and Bucks Port [sic] Marina to his daughters on September 1, 2009, prior to defaulting on the project."

The insurance company issued a civil suit against Weaver, and he hired Viers to represent him in the case, according to the press release. Weaver entered a contract with Viers that required Weaver to pay a $500,000 retainer fee. Weaver payed Viers with a $10,000 and a $490,000 cashier's check. The $490,000 check was money that Weaver attempted to conceal from SafeCo, officials say.

Officials say Viers deposited the cashier's check into his account at Anderson Brothers Bank on December 4, 2009. He then wrote a check to Archie Evans Ministries with $400,000 in funds that Weaver was secretly investing with Gold and Silver. Viers was supposed to deposit the remaining $90,000 into his campaign account. After earning approximately $30,000 in legal fees, Viers returned the remainder of the funds to Weaver.

According to the press release, Viers set up a trust account at the First Citizens Bank, for Weaver in January 2012. Viers agreed to have money wired or deposited into the account by Evans. Viers contacted the bank to authorize withdrawal of the funds by Weaver when the money was credited to the account, and Viers authorized each withdrawal for $10,000 or more, officials say. Weaver then cashed the checks at different banks and gave the money back to the owner of Gold and Silver. This activity continued between January 2011, and October 2011, and was credited to Viers's First Citizen's Trust account.

Law enforcement officials say during the conspiracy, Viers either knew the funds involved were proceeds of criminal activity, or he was aware that the funds were probably proceeds from criminal activity.

The penalty for the money laundering charge that he pleaded guilty could have been: a fine of up to $250,000, 10 years imprisonment, and three years of supervised release, according to the plea agreement.

Viers agreed to make full restitution to any and all victims who may have been harmed by his alleged criminal activity, not limited to the count to which he pleaded guilty. He also agreed to cooperate with federal, state and local law enforcement fully, including testifying before grand juries or at any trial proceedings.

After pleading guilty in April, Viers released the following statement to WMBF News:

Today I pleaded guilty for committing an 18 USC 1957 violation of a value greater than $10,000.00. I am criminally responsible because I was willfully blind, deliberately ignorant, and consciously avoided asking questions that any lawyer would ask. The other 13 charges, including lying to a federal agent, fraud, and conspiracy to commit fraud have been dismissed. I did not profit or realize any money from this violation. I take full responsibility for my actions and offer no excuses. Furthermore, attempting to place blame on my criminal client for his fraudulent and criminal conspiracy to defraud an insurance company is not a defense for my actions. As a lawyer I should have known better, but instead chose to turn a blind eye and inoculate myself from fault. As a man I must take responsibility for my actions and am doing so. Please keep me and my family in your prayers.

Viers was indicted by a grand jury on the money laundering charges in August 2014.

Viers represented Myrtle Beach in the South Carolina House of Representatives from 2002 to 2012. In 2012, he was indicted on stalking and harassment charges, stemming from issues between him and his ex-girlfriend. He pleaded guilty on those charges and was sentenced in 2014.

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