Former state representative Thad Viers likely won't return to court until next year, his attorney said Wednesday after a federal judge granted the lawyer more time to work on Viers' criminal case.
Trey Cockrell, the Chesterfield lawyer representing Viers, said he doesn't expect his client to be back in court until January or February.
Viers faces 14 charges, including money laundering, racketeering-related financial transactions and lying to an Internal Revenue Service investigator.
Judge Bruce Howe Hendricks on Wednesday postponed Viers' pretrial conference until the next term of court, meaning he would either enter a guilty plea or agree to proceed to trial at that time.
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That decision was scheduled to be made Wednesday, but Cockrell asked the judge for additional time. Cockrell was appointed to represent Viers just two months ago because the public defender's office is representing a potential key witness and couldn't take Viers' case in light of the conflict.
The government is paying most of Cockrell's fees because Viers, a Republican who represented the area for nearly a decade, has said he can't afford his own attorney.
Hendricks seemed annoyed at Cockrell asking for a continuance. He had made the same request for one of his other clients earlier in court and said state cases had kept his schedule packed.
“I know you've been busy,” she said. “But federal court comes first.”
Prosecutors didn't object to the delay. Viers was in court but did not speak.
When asked about his client's intentions outside the courtroom, Cockrell said Viers maintains his innocence.
“The plan right now is still [go to] trial,” Cockrell said, though he added that negotiations with prosecutors are ongoing.
The case stems from allegations that Viers tried to help his 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. 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 has been 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 have said 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 said Viers knew that money came from Weaver’s illegal activity related to the marina sale.
They also contend 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 founded by Archie Evans, a former Baptist preacher and convicted felon who was arrested on a firearms charge after trying to sneak a gun into the federal courthouse during his sentencing on fraud charges in July. Evans’ company turned out to be a Ponzi scheme that cost investors $3.7 million.
Cockrell insists Viers was simply following his client’s instructions.
“If he's guilty of anything, he's guilty of using bad judgment,” he said. “But guilty of a crime? He was acting at the direction of his client.”
Viers served in the S.C. House of Representatives from 2003 through 2012. He represented 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.