State treasurer indicted on drug charges

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- South Carolina Treasurer Thomas Ravenel, a millionaire former real estate developer who became a rising political star after his election last year, was indicted Tuesday on federal cocaine charges.

Ravenel bought less than 500 grams of cocaine from Michael L. Miller to share with other people, U.S. Attorney Reggie Lloyd said. Ravenel didn't sell any of the drugs, Lloyd said.

Ravenel will be allowed to turn himself in, authorities said. The treasurer's office referred all questions to Ravenel's lawyer Joel Collins, who did not return a message left at his office.

The investigation into Ravenel arose from a drug case last year in Charleston, Lloyd said. State Law Enforcement Division Chief Robert Stewart said his agents were aware of the allegations before Ravenel was elected in November, but didn't have enough information to pursue criminal charges until they turned the case over to the FBI in April.

Ravenel and Miller, who is in custody, each face on charge of distribution of cocaine, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

"The investigation is just beginning," Lloyd said.

Gov. Mark Sanford suspended Ravenel immediately based on the serious nature of the charge. The governor said he would name an interim treasurer soon.

"These are obviously very serious allegations that we're constitutionally bound to act upon, and they'll ultimately be decided by the courts." Sanford said in a statement.

Ravenel, 44, started his political career in 2004, funding his own campaign for the U.S. Senate seat left open by the retiring Ernest F. "Fritz" Hollings. He finished a close third in the Republican primary.

During his campaign for treasurer, Ravenel promised complete his term and not run in a primary in 2008 against U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, despite growing resentment for Graham by some of the state's Republicans.

Ravenel was founder of the Ravenel Development Corp., a commercial real estate development company. His father, Arthur Ravenel Jr., 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 Ravenel is also the state chairman for former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's presidential campaign.

-- Read more in Wednesday's edition of The Sun News