Ex-SC official to stay in jail after prostitution bust

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A former member of the board that oversees South Carolina highways will have to stay in jail until a federal court hearing to determine if he violated probation when authorities say he tried to hire a prostitute.

Prosecutors said John Hardee texted an undercover officer posing as a prostitute and arranged a $40 sex act about nine hours after he was sentenced Aug. 7 to probation and 45 days of house arrest for obstructing a bribery investigation.

The former state Department of Transportation commissioner was brought into court Wednesday in a wheelchair because of a recent fall following knee and back surgery.

Defense attorney Jack Swerling said Hardee, 72, was having to sleep on concrete and wasn’t being given pain medicine since his arrest Monday on the possible probation violation.

A hearing to determine if Hardee violated his probation on the federal charge has not been scheduled. Hardee had faced up to 20 years in prison on the obstruction charge, admitting he told someone paying him for access to lawmakers to destroy emails after the businessman told Hardee there was a FBI investigation.

A court filing shows that federal officials had investigated Hardee for bribery but determined he did not commit that offense.

News outlets report that federal prosecutors asked to keep Hardee in jail because he so quickly violated his probation and he knew specific language used to arrange paid sex acts which showed he had solicited prostitutes before.

U.S. Magistrate Shiva Hodges agreed that Hardee was a danger to the community because he wasn’t following the law.

Hardee was among 14 people arrested in the undercover internet operation to find people looking to pay for sex, Richland County deputies said. Hardee was charged with misdemeanor soliciting a prostitute.

Hardee’s lawyer said he didn’t understand the conditions of his house arrest, thinking it was more like a curfew. But prosecutors said the judge in the obstruction case carefully explained he could only leave home to go to work, church, medical appointments or to see his attorney.

Hardee served on the South Carolina Department of Transportation board from 1998 to 2007 and from 2014 to 2018. The expressway to Columbia’s airport is named for him.