By MEG KINNARD
Associated Press Writer
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Former South Carolina Treasurer Thomas Ravenel, once seen as a rising political star in the Republican Party, pleaded guilty Thursday to a federal charge of possession with intent to distribute cocaine.
Ravenel, 45, admitted during a hearing that he bought cocaine from several different people and said he used the drug sometimes as often as once a week.
“I pled guilty today because I was guilty,” Ravenel said in a statement after the hearing. “I’m looking very forward to putting this sad chapter behind me and moving forward. I’m very remorseful for my behavior.”
Ravenel resigned a month after his June indictment. He faces up to 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine, though his plea agreement calls for a reduced sentence because he is helping prosecutors with their investigation.
Ravenel will remain free on a $100,000 unsecured bond until he is sentenced in about two months. He pleaded guilty to possessing with intent to distribute less than 500 grams of cocaine. Prosecutors have said he bought the cocaine to share with friends, not to sell.
Less than three months ago, the multimillionaire developer and son of a former congressman was being encouraged by supporters to run against Sen. Lindsey Graham in next year’s Republican primary.
Ravenel began carving out his political career by putting nearly $3 million of his own money into an unsuccessful 2004 U.S. Senate bid eventually won by fellow Republican Jim DeMint. In 2006, he ousted longtime incumbent Democrat Grady Patterson to become treasurer.
Ravenel was also the state chairman for Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani, but he left the campaign after being indicted.
U.S. Attorney Reggie Lloyd said Thursday that there was no evidence Ravenel had used the drug in his government office or while carrying out his duties as state treasurer.
Chief U.S. District Judge Joseph F. Anderson Jr. said Thursday that Ravenel’s sentence would be based on an amount of cocaine less than 100 grams, part of a plea agreement between prosecutors and Ravenel’s attorneys.
Rene Josey, a lawyer who was the U.S. Attorney for South Carolina in the 1990s, said Ravenel might not get any time behind bars if prosecutors are happy with the help he provides.
“Generally the more somebody cooperates, the more people they rat on, the more a judge is going to depart” from federal sentencing guidelines, Josey said. “If he doesn’t get jail time, I don’t think that would be unrealistic.”
Ravenel has spent a month each in rehabilitation facilities in Arizona and New Mexico. His attorneys have refused to say what kind of treatment he received, and on Thursday, Ravenel told the judge he did not receive drug treatment.
“It had more to deal with why I was acting so recklessly,” he said. “We had to deal with childhood issues and why I was engaging in ... reckless behavior.”
Neither Ravenel nor his attorneys would answer questions after his hearing.
Two other people also have been charged in Ravenel’s case.