South Carolina

State official’s brother banned from club, but avoids jail

George McMaster, the brother of Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster, was banned for life from the premises of the Palmetto Club and will never be allowed to be a club member again as part of a criminal sentence handed down Thursday by a circuit judge.

In a 15-minute unannounced hearing at the Richland County courthouse, Judge Tanya Gee also sentenced McMaster to 30 days in jail, suspended on six months’ probation for assault and battery, third degree.

If McMaster, 66, had not pleaded guilty Thursday to that relatively minor charge, which carries a maximum of 30 days in jail, the solicitor’s office was ready to go to trial in June on a charge of assault and battery, first degree, which carries a maximum sentence of up to 10 years, assistant 5th Circuit Solicitor Margaret Bodman told the judge.

According to a statement of facts Bodman read in open court, McMaster – then a member of the Sumter Street club – accosted a waiter at the club May 13, 2014, started advising the waiter on his clothing, then cursed him, pulled his pants down to his ankles and touched him on his genitals and rear. At least part of the event was witnessed by another Palmetto Club employee, Bodman said.

McMaster was asked by Gee if he agreed with Bodman’s recitation.

At that question, McMaster’s attorney, Johnny Gasser, interceded and told the judge that while McMaster wasn’t going to say specifically that he agreed with details of the prosecutor’s summary, McMaster has apologized to the victim, is pleading guilty to assault and battery and admits “that he crossed a line.”

Gasser also told the judge that McMaster, an inactive attorney, “has had some pretty significant health issues,” which include prostate cancer, heart problems and depression, “all of which were in play on that afternoon of May 13.”

At the time, Gasser said, McMaster was drinking beer and taking medication, but “he has not had a drink in two years.” McMaster also has spent some months at the Lukens Institute, an addiction recovery center near Palm Beach in Florida, Gasser told the judge.

The victim, a tall young man in his 20s, also spoke. “I can never forgive him for what happened those two years ago, and I can never forget it,” he said haltingly.

Two months after the incident, the S.C. Supreme Court placed McMaster’s law license on interim suspension. According to an S.C. Bar membership directory, McMaster is still suspended.

Officials of the Palmetto Club, for decades a downtown gathering place for the capital city’s legal, political and business elite, were “responsive” to the waiter’s situation, Bodman told the judge.