Testimony: Mayor Benjamin, Pinson and Orlando businessman visited strip club, brought women back to hotel

Pinson and Mayor Steve Benjamin.
Pinson and Mayor Steve Benjamin.

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Columbia mayor Steve Benjamin, Orlando businessman Richard Zahn and businessman Jonathan Pinson visited an Orlando strip club and took two women back to their hotel, a witness testified Wednesday, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

According to testimony, Zahn flew the men, including himself, to Florida in an effort for South Carolina State University to buy a property in Orangeburg.

In December 2010, the group had dinner, visited a strip club and ended up taking two of the women back to their hotel, the witness testified.

Pinson and Benjamin were with the women in the hotel room but the witness did not know what happened after.

"It's one thing to go out with the boys on a night on the town," said former mayoral candidate Joe Azar. "It's another thing, especially when you're married, to take the girls home with you when you're out of town."

Azar said the developments put Columbia back in the spotlight but not in a good way.

"Do we look like Detroit, D.C., New Orleans?" Azar said. "Yes, we sure do, don't we. It does detract from us. Very much so, especially with this case, River's Edge, Pinson, and all. The so-called fertilizer is starting to hit the fan. I think he's gotta go."

Pinson's federal corruption trial began this week in Richland County.

Pinson is accused of accepting kickbacks while chairman of the SC State University Board of Trustees.

On Monday, federal prosecutors tied Pinson to Benjamin who had been Pinson's business partner.

Benjamin has not been charged in the investigation.

Zahn, a Florida developer and Orangeburg County resort property owner, pleaded to conspiracy to defraud the federal government. Zahn owned Sportsman's Retreat, a 121-acre property located about 10 miles from the Orangeburg campus.

WIS has reached out to Benjamin for comment on Wednesday's testimony.

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