Men of Honor?Is Lasch really a friend of the Hunley?
By Michael Graham
On March 28, about the same time excited archeologists were announcing the discovery of a
medicine bottle among the artifacts from the H.L. Hunley, the worlds most famous
sunken sub was surfacing again in a most unusual place: The U.S. District Court in Grand
Theres been a boatload of media coverage over the initial raising of the Hunley. And
yet, when the Hunley appeared as exhibit A in a court hearing to expunge the criminal
record of Friends of the Hunley Chairman Warren Lasch, that fact went virtually
unreported. Indeed, few people in South Carolina even know that Lasch whose name
appears on the building housing the Hunley pled guilty in 1995 to mishandling his
employee pension fund.
Fewer still know that Laschs plea agreement forbids him from serving in any position
of trust for such a fund even today. But it does not, interestingly, prevent Lasch from
serving as chairman of our states most prominent charity, the Friends of the Hunley,
a job he was given by state Senator Glenn McConnell (R-Confederate States of America).
Lasch was also McConnells choice to sit on the State Infrastructure Bank (SIB),
where he would help oversee the spending of billions of other peoples dollars on
road and bridge projects. Thats quite a responsibility for a man currently
prohibited by a federal court from overseeing your 401(k) plan. McConnell withdrew
Laschs SIB appointment after people like me started talking about his criminal
record. Instead, McConnell has named a guy named Rick Tapp: Warren Laschs business
partner and the attorney for Laschs Friends of the Hunley.
If the story seems odd, it is. The details which involve promises of millions in
fundraising dollars for the Hunley, followed by sweetheart business deals at the old
Charleston Naval base for Lasch are too convoluted to account here. Besides, the
story may be odd, but its not new: virtually every daily paper and TV news
department have seen the court documents or is familiar with the details. They just
dont think its news.
Perhaps a politician who appoints a white-collar criminal to oversee a charitable
organization which has received more than $8 million in tax dollars isnt news. After
all, it doesnt involve any of the cast members of Survivor.
Then again, maybe South Carolina news outlets dont want to rub the gloss off the
Hunley story, a story which truly is amazing. The people of South Carolina are duly proud
of the Hunley project. It is bringing our state some half-decent publicity for a change,
and nobody wants to rock the boat, especially one submerged in a tank at the Warren Lasch
But it seems that somebody, somewhere ought to at least ask the obvious questions: Did
McConnell know about Warren Laschs little problem before he appointed
him to Friends of the Hunley? Did Laschs promises of big bucks for McConnells
favorite cause help grease the skids for Laschs multi-million dollar business
dealings with the state? Does having the Hunley project appear in federal court as
part of Laschs self-serving expungement efforts dishonor the crew and its memory?
I would love to ask McConnell and Lasch these questions myself, but they have gone to
ridiculous lengths to avoid me, to the point of having their PR flak announce that Lasch
would not talk to me under any circumstances. Laschs attorneys even
guaranteed me (their word) a lawsuit if I mentioned his record on my radio
program, which I have since done numerous times.
However, a reporter from my radio station, WSC, did finally get McConnell to talk about
the Lasch problem. After denying that he knew about Laschs guilty plea, McConnell
asked, As great and worthy project is, why is it your station seems to be
tryin to stain it? He insisted that Laschs infractions were merely
failing to file a piece of paper, and insisted that linking the Hunley and
Laschs conviction was just outrageous in my mind. Thats just
I happen to agree with McConnell. Any linking of the historically significant and
emotionally compelling story of the Hunley to this incident of tawdry, two-bit business
dealings by Warren Lasch is outrageous. It is wrong.
But I didnt name Warren Lasch to chair Friends of the Hunley. Glenn McConnell did. I
didnt name the building housing South Carolinas treasured artifacts after Lasch.
McConnell did that, too. I didnt follow up Laschs generous fund-raising
pledges with still-more generous offers of state ports facilities and a seat on the SIB.
That was McConnells doing as well, an action which forever raises questions about
whether the raising of the Hunley has been entwined with the raising of Laschs
business fortunes here in South Carolina.
If, Sen. McConnell, this issue is one of honor, why is it that Warren Laschs legal
misstep diminishes his character enough to keep him off the State Infrastructure Bank, but
not enough to keep him from Friends of the Hunley?
If McConnell has any doubt that his relationship with Warren Lasch has dishonored the
Hunley, he should read the transcripts from the March 28th expungement hearing. Here was
Lasch, who had asked for a plea bargain to avoid prosecution on the more serious charges
and who agreed in his deal not to contest the conviction, back in court trying to undue
the deal in his favor. And he used the prestige of the Hunley to aid his cause, pointing
out (erroneously, by the way) that Lasch has raised most of the funds for the
raising of the Hunley.
The judge, who was following the Hunley story from Michigan, denied Laschs request.
But just a few weeks later, Warren Lasch was back in South Carolina receiving an honorary
doctorate from The Citadel, at the behest of McConnell. The punch line:
Its a doctorate of Business Administration