Attorney: Steve Benjamin was targeted in FBI wiretap investigati - - Columbia, South Carolina |

Attorney: Steve Benjamin was targeted in FBI wiretap investigation

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Former SC State University Chairman Jonathan Pinson walks to his hearing. Former SC State University Chairman Jonathan Pinson walks to his hearing.
Businessman Eric Robinson Businessman Eric Robinson
Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin

The attorney for the former Board of Trustees chairman at South Carolina State University claims Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin was on the list of people for the FBI to wiretap as part of an investigation into a housing development.

The new allegations came at former Chairman Jonathan Pinson's hearing at federal court in Charleston on Wednesday where his attorney, Jim Griffin, tried to get FBI wiretaps dismissed as evidence against his client.

Griffin said the FBI's investigation started with an inquiry into The Village at River's Edge, a lower-income housing development off McCrae Street in Columbia's north side. Benjamin was involved with the development before his mayoral campaign in 2009.

However, the mayor said he sold his interest in the venture to Pinson just two days before the campaign began.

Benjamin's co-investors into the development have been charged with federal crimes related to the $1.6 million federal loan connected to the project. Those charged with connections to the development include: Lance Wright, Tony Williams, Phillip Mims, and Pinson.

Benjamin has not been named in any federal investigation and said in a statement through a city spokesperson late Wednesday, "The Mayor continues to pray for Mr. Pinson and his family.  He believes that beyond that, this is a matter for the legal system which should be allowed to run its course without interference from him or anyone else trying to litigate it in the media."

Instead, Pinson and another man, Eric Robinson, have been accused by the FBI of buying into and participating in crimes ranging from extortion, to bribery, to money laundering and lying to investigators. Prosecutors say the pair was involved in several business ventures from Orangeburg, Greenville, and Georgia.   

Robinson's role, according to prosecutors, was to provide kickbacks to Pinson. In exchange, Pinson allowed him to remain in the enterprise.

For example, the FBI says Pinson used his position at SC State to award Robinson the promoter's contract for the 2011 Homecoming concert. Investigators say Robinson paid Pinson a kickback.

Federal prosecutors said there were 5,103 calls intercepted by the FBI during the 4-month wiretap placed on Pinson's cell phone. Of those, only 766 were pertinent to the case.

Prosecutors say they didn't take all the calls they could have to prove the racketeering case against Pinson.

Some people on the recorded phone calls the FBI collected have not been ruled out as co-conspirators. There could be more charged.

Tuesday's federal hearing was the last push by Pinson's attorney to have the wiretap evidence dismissed. Without the wiretaps, the federal government said they had no case.

The judge denied the attorney's motion to dismiss the evidence. Instead, the federal judge set a trial for Pinson and Robinson for March 20, 2014 in Columbia.

Pinson and Robinson both appeared in court, but neither spoke to the media.

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