Operation Lost Trust was arguably South Carolina’s largest and longest-running political scandal.
Operation Lost Trust was arguably South Carolina’s largest and longest-running political scandal. Including the investigation, trials, and retrials, the Operation Lost Trust saga extended from 1989 to 1999. The key player in the FBI’s investigation into legislative corruption was Ron Cobb, a lobbyist and former member of the S.C. House of Representatives. He was arrested in April 1989 for trying to buy a kilo of cocaine in a deal orchestrated by the FBI for the purpose of securing his involvement as the front man in the Lost Trust investigation. He told members of the General Assembly that he represented the Alpha Group that was seeking support for a bill legalizing dog- and horse-track betting in South Carolina. Cobb recruited Representatives Robert A. Kohn and Luther Taylor to help in securing legislative votes by paying members money in exchange for their support and votes. The transactions were captured on surveillance tapes.
The federal investigation resulted in the conviction of seventeen members of the South Carolina General Assembly, seven lobbyists, and three others for bribery, extortion, or drug use. All but five of the twenty-seven convictions were the result of guilty pleas. In 1991 and 1992 five legislators were granted new trials because of legal errors. U.S. District Judge Falcon Hawkins then dismissed the charges against the five for alleged misconduct by the federal prosecution team led by U.S. Attorney Bart Daniel. Judge Hawkins’s ruling was overturned in November 1998 by the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which reinstated the criminal charges. During the period between 1991 and 1998 two of the five legislators died after long illnesses. The three remaining defendants were retried in 1999, and all three were convicted.
Green, Richard, Jr. “Retrials to Begin in Ongoing Lost Trust Saga.” Charleston Post and Courier, May 23, 1999, pp. A1, A14.
Kropf, Schuyler. “Blanding Faces Final Retrial in Lost Trust.” Charleston Post and Courier, August 15, 1999, p. B2.
–––. “Cobb Finds Some Good in His Lost Trust Role.” Charleston Post and Courier, August 23, 1999, pp. A1, A9.