S.C. attorney general reflects on career

COLUMBIA --- Looking back over his eight years in office, Attorney General Henry McMaster can readily list several high-profile victories: winning millions for South Carolina in a pharmaceutical lawsuit; creating courts to prosecute criminal domestic violence; prosecuting the state's largest securities fraud scandal.


The two-term Republican is just as frank about his losses, including the tea party-backed uprising that, in part, led to his defeat in his quest to become South Carolina's governor.

"You never know what the voters are looking for, but all over the country there was an idea of seeking new people," the 63-year-old McMaster said in a recent interview.

McMaster leaves office next month following a political career that started with losing campaigns for U.S. Senate and lieutenant governor but shifted to an eight-year stint as state Republican Party chairman. In 2002, he won the first of two terms as attorney general and has since made good on campaign promises, including a pledge to better protect children against sexual predators. A task force using officers posing as children online to lure predators has marked more than 200 arrests.

"It's working like a charm," McMaster said in a recent interview. "We haven't lost a single case yet."

McMaster also created an attorney network to prosecute criminal domestic violence, dedicating prosecutors in each county to what he calls South Carolina's No. 1 crime issue. So far, 100 special prosecutors have prosecuted more than 2,000 cases to help clear up backlogged court dockets.

McMaster also successfully prosecuted officials from HomeGold and Carolina Investors, whose 2003 collapse cost thousands of investors about $275 million. McMaster crafted a bill giving the state grand jury the power to investigate securities fraud, then brought cases against the top six executives. All have either pleaded guilty or been convicted of fraud.

He caught flak in 2009 when he removed South Carolina from a multistate deal to split $331 million from Pfizer Inc. over the pharmaceutical giant's disputed drug sales tactics. Vindication came months later in the form of a deal for $11 million -- double the amount South Carolina would have gotten otherwise.

His highest-profile legal defeat came in 2007, when he personally prosecuted a sex offender accused by two teen girls of binding and raping them in an underground bunker in Darlington County. A lawyer for Kenneth Glenn Hinson, who maintained his innocence, picked apart the witness testimony and the evidence and got him acquitted. Hinson is in prison on a federal charge for illegally possessing a handgun when he was arrested.

"I really don't know what happened to that case," McMaster said "We were surprised at the verdict. Everybody was."

McMaster also fell short on his 2009 push to create a "middle court" system, under which young offenders would be closely supervised by a judge instead of sentenced to prison. McMaster says he is hopeful Gov.-elect Nikki Haley and Alan Wilson, who will be sworn in as attorney general in January, will try again.

"We know it will work," McMaster said. "Just reforming what goes on in prison is not enough. You've got to keep the people that don't need to be there out, to begin with."

Cagy about what his future holds, McMaster -- who as a member of Haley's transition team has pledged not to seek any post in her 16-member Cabinet -- says he is interested in improving South Carolina's education and economic development prospects.