South Carolina

USC trustee, 3 others to plead guilty in hawk killing

USC trustee Charles Williams
USC trustee Charles Williams

Charles Williams, a member of the University of South Carolina board of trustees, has agreed to plead guilty in connection with charges of killing federally protected migratory hawks.

Three associates of Williams also have agreed to plead guilty as well, according to court records made public Monday.

All four will appear at a hearing June 6 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Shiva Hodges.

The charges are misdemeanors, but each carries a six-month maximum prison sentence and a fine of up to $15,000.

Williams, 65, an Orangeburg lawyer, is charged with seven counts of unlawfully trapping and killing multiple federally protected migratory hawks in 2013 and 2014.

His associates face similar charges. Jimmy Aiken, 56, and John Dantzler, 66, are each charged with taking part with Williams in separate hawk killings. Alejandro Renteria Noyola, 56, faces a single charge of unlawfully killing a hawk.

Although the exact circumstances of the hawk killings have not been made public, the hearing is expected to offer a glimpse of how large landowners sometimes deal with wildlife they consider troublesome.

The killings occurred on the 1,790-acre Willcreek Planation owned by Williams.

Authorities first began investigating Williams after receiving a tip on a wildlife hotline. More than 30 dead birds-of-prey on his sprawling Orangeburg County tract, court records say.

Evidence has been said to include video surveillance of one or more actual killings. State and federal wildlife officers are allowed to go onto private property to conduct visual and video surveillance as long as they do not go in the vicinity of houses.

Some owners of large tracts buy thousands of quail for hunting. Hawks hunt quail and thus become a nuisance.

Williams’ two lawyers are Gedney Howe, a Charleston criminal defense lawyer who has represented such clients as former House Speaker Bobby Harrell and state Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, who is in Williams’ law firm.

Hawks may be killed with federal permission, usually issued for research purposes.

Williams has numerous political and business connections. Along with Hutto, those connections include his late father, former state Sen. Marshall Williams, a Democrat who was Senate president pro tem at the time of his death in 1995. Williams’ late wife, Karen, was a judge on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Virginia.

Charles Williams has been a member of the USC board of trustees since 2010. His term expires in 2018.