COLUMBIA — A judge refused to throw out tax evasion charges against a South Carolina House member who claimed it was impossible to get a fair trial because Gov. Nikki Haley discussed his case to try to make her own tax problems seem less serious.
Circuit Judge Thomas Cooper Jr. decided in a ruling released Monday that the comments about Rep. Kris Crawford's case made by Haley and then-Attorney General Henry McMaster during the election last October wasn't enough reason to dismiss the charges.
Cooper set Crawford's trial on seven counts of failure to file tax returns for next week. He also ruled that Crawford's lawyers could ask to move it from Florence County if they have trouble finding unbiased jurors.
"Clearly, this is a highly charged case because of the politics surrounding Dr. Crawford and Gov. Haley," Cooper wrote in his ruling dated last week. "However, most of that political firestorm was generated by special interest groups, often partisan, and the media."
Crawford, a Republican from Florence, is accused of failing to file state income taxes on time from 2004 to 2007. He blamed the missed deadline on a former accountant and said he is up to date on his taxes now. He won election to a third term last year with 64 percent of the vote.
Messages for Crawford and a spokesman for Haley, also a Republican, were not immediately returned.
Crawford filed a motion asking the charges be dismissed after Haley and McMaster held a joint press conference last October when Haley was facing her own questions about filing taxes from a conservative group comparing her problems with Crawford's case. Records show Haley and her husband filed their income taxes late in 2005, 2006 and 2007.
"When we paid late, we paid what we needed to, our taxes were always satisfied," Haley said at a later news conference.
She noted she filed for extensions, but also acknowledged paying past the deadline for those extensions several times.
About Crawford, Haley said, "He just absolutely ignored the government. He didn't file. He didn't attempt to communicate with the government. There was no filing whatsoever. They're not even similar."
Crawford is an emergency room doctor who is the sole shareholder of Crawford Medical LLC. Authorities say he didn't file personal income taxes for 2004 to 2007 and corporate income taxes from 2005 to 2007.