Former state lawmaker Thad Viers began appealing his 37-month prison sentence this week.
Viers was sentenced last month for money laundering, a federal crime that can carry up to 10 years in prison. His lawyer, Trey Cockrell, had asked Judge Bruce Howe Hendricks to consider probation for the 37-year-old former lawyer and one-time frontrunner for the 7th District Congressional seat, but she declined.
Cockrell, who filed the notice of appeal Monday, said Viers is not challenging the conviction — he pleaded guilty in April in exchange for prosecutors dropping other charges against him — but the former Republican leader is hoping for a reduced punishment.
Prosecutors’ case against Viers centered on his efforts to help law firm client Marlon Weaver hide assets from an insurance company that was trying to collect money on a construction bond.
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Weaver pleaded guilty to a felony money laundering charge and in June was sentenced to 12 months and one day in prison. He was also ordered to pay $1.2 million in restitution and serve three years of supervised release. Prosecutors asked that his sentence be reduced because of his assistance in other cases, including the one against Viers.
Weaver admitted 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.
Investigators say Weaver back-dated 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 contend Viers knew that money came from Weaver's illegal activity related to the marina sale.
They also say Viers lied to an IRS investigator when he said he was not aware that Weaver was trying to hide assets from the insurance company.
Cockrell maintains that Viers was a minor player in the scheme and the $10,000 he received was payment for other legal work he did for Weaver.
“In reality, Thad got zero dollars out of this whole thing,” he said.
Cockrell also pointed out that Weaver’s sentence was much lighter than the one given to Viers, who must also pay $875,000 in restitution and serve three years of probation as well as undergo anger management counseling and a substance abuse treatment program.
However, Cockrell noted that Hendricks’ decision fell within the guidelines in Viers’ pre-sentencing report, which outlines different factors in the case and provides a range for a prison term. In Viers’ case, the recommended range was 37 to 46 months.
“At first blush, when you take all that into consideration, it looks like Thad got a raw deal,” Cockrell said. “On the flipside … if the judge was trying to nail him to the wall, he could have gotten 46 months and he got 37.”
Viers served in the S.C. House of Representatives from 2003-12. He represented District 68, which includes Socastee. A graduate of Socastee High School and the University of South Carolina law school, Viers was a frontrunner for the open U.S. House District 7 seat in 2012 before withdrawing from the race when he was accused of stalking a former girlfriend.
Three days after receiving his sentence, Viers turned himself over to U.S. Marshals.