Sheriff: Ex-DOT official Hardee thought he had deal with a prostitute. It was a cop

David Travis Bland

A prominent former commissioner with the Department of Transportation showed up at a house to have sex with a prostitute but he confronted deputies instead, according to police.

John Hardee, who has an expressway near the Columbia Metropolitan Airport named after him, was charged with soliciting prostitution Thursday, according to court records. He was one of 14 men arrested by deputies in an undercover prostitution bust conducted by Richland County Sheriff’s Department.

Hardee communicated online with someone he thought was a prostitute and arranged a price and a meeting place for the sex transaction, Sheriff Leon Lott said.

Lott said Hardee used social media or an internet site where people advertise for prostitution deals. The sheriff wouldn’t specify what service was used because he didn’t want others to use it.

“Those who engage in that know where to go,” Lott said. “In the old days you used to ride down Two Notch Road and you’d flag down a prostitute. ... Those days are over with. Social media is how you hook up and do it now.”

Hardee was a South Carolina Department of Transportation commissioner from 1998 to 2007 and 2014 to 2018.

Last Wednesday, he pleaded guilty to tampering with evidence in a federal investigation but avoided a prison sentence. Federal Judge Terry Wooten gave Hardee a light sentence for his plea, based on the fact that Hardee committed no other crime connected to the tampering charge. Hardee was sentenced to 18 months probation, 45 days house arrest, community service and a fine.

Deputies arrested him in the prostitution sting the day after the judge’s sentencing and the same day the paper work was finalized for the sentence, court records show.

“These people out here like John Hardee and the other 13 who are out here buying sex, they’re promoting human trafficking,” Lott said. “It’s not a victimless crime. These women are trafficked.”

Deputies booked Hardee at Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center. Judge Patience Orbriel Van Ellis let Hardee out of jail on a $465 bond.

This is Hardee’s first solicitation charge, according to court records. A first-time offense of soliciting prostitution is a misdemeanor punishable with 30 days in prison or a $200 fine.

The first condition of Hardee’s federal probation is that he “must not commit another federal, state or local crime.”