Former state legislator Thad Viers has dropped his high-profile criminal defense lawyer and now wants to be represented by a public defender in his federal money laundering case, but a potential conflict of interest could leave Viers — at least temporarily — without legal representation.
Michael Meetze, the public defender appointed to represent Viers, filed court documents last week stating that it could be a conflict for his office to represent the former Republican legislator from Socastee. Meetze did not specify the potential conflict in court papers but said he would explain the issue during a hearing Thursday in Florence.
Meetze did not return a telephone call seeking comment.
It is not clear whether that potential conflict is related to another potential conflict in the case of Archie Evans, a former Baptist preacher who pleaded guilty to running a Ponzi scheme and is now facing charges of trying to sneak a gun into federal court. The public defender’s office is representing Evans on the gun charge and filed court documents Monday to seek a judge’s opinion about a potential yet unnamed conflict.
Evans is named as a co-conspirator in Viers’ case and is cooperating with the government’s prosecution of the former legislator. Viers’ previous lawyer, however, said last month that Evans is lying about Viers’ involvement in the money laundering scheme in the hopes of getting a reduced prison sentence.
It could pose a challenge for the public defender’s office to represent both men with opposite views about what took place.
Viers initially was represented by Pete Strom, a former U.S. attorney in Columbia who now specializes in criminal defense law. Strom represented Viers during an arraignment hearing last month in which Viers pleaded not guilty to 14 charges of racketeering-related bank transactions, money laundering and lying to an Internal Revenue Service investigator. Viers, who was suspended from his law practice in 2012 on unrelated charges, is free on a $25,000 unsecured bond while he awaits trial.
Strom did not return a telephone call seeking comment.
Viers filed financial documents with the court last week stating that he cannot afford a lawyer and that he wishes to be represented by the public defender’s office. Magistrate Judge Thomas Rogers appointed Meetze during a hearing last week. One day later, Meetze filed court documents stating that “after the hearing concluded, [Meetze] became aware of a situation which may constitute a conflict of interest” with the public defender’s office continuing to represent Viers.
Rogers will decide Thursday whether the potential conflict will force Viers to find someone else to represent him.
Viers did not return a telephone call seeking comment, but he thanked his supporters during a recent post on his Facebook page.
“Can’t thank everyone enough for the many prayers, phone calls and text messages my family and I have received over the past weeks,” Viers stated on his Facebook page. “Please continue to keep my family and me in your thoughts and prayers as we navigate these legal issues over the next several months.”
The case stems from allegations that Viers tried to help law firm client Marlon Weaver hide assets from an insurance company that was trying to collect money on a construction bond.
Weaver has pleaded guilty to one felony money laundering charge and is awaiting sentencing. Weaver admits he tried to hide money he made from the 2010 sale of Bucksport Marina from an insurance company that had provided a $6 million bond for a road paving project his company was supposed to complete. Among the assets Weaver pledged as security for the bond was his one-fifth interest in the marina.
Weaver is accused of back-dating documents to make it appear as if he had transferred his interest in the marina to his daughters prior to his company’s default on the road paving project.
Prosecutors say Viers knew Weaver was trying to hide the money and helped him form a limited liability corporation that purportedly transferred Weaver’s interest in the marina to his daughters. An indictment states Viers also made 12 withdrawals totaling $524,000 from a trust account he set up and gave that money to Weaver. Prosecutors say Viers knew that money came from Weaver’s illegal activity related to the marina sale.
They also say Viers lied to an IRS investigator earlier this year when he said he was not aware that Weaver was trying to hide assets from the insurance company.
Weaver hid some of the money in the investment company Evans founded, which turned out to be a Ponzi scheme that cost investors $3.7 million.
Viers served in the S.C. House of Representatives from 2003-12, representing District 68 which includes Socastee. A graduate of Socastee High School and the University of South Carolina law school, Viers was a front-runner for the open U.S. House District 7 seat in 2012 before withdrawing from the race when he was charged with stalking a former girlfriend. Viers remains on probation from the stalking charge.
Viers faces up to 145 years in prison for the 14 felony charges in the federal criminal case.
Contact DAVID WREN at 626-0281 or via twitter at @David_Wren_