Michael Bartley: Pinson told me to lie about Steve Benjamin - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina

Ex-SCSU police chief: Pinson told me to lie about Benjamin's whereabouts

Jonathan Pinson and Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin Jonathan Pinson and Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin

The former South Carolina State University police chief who pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges in 2013 testified in the federal trial of former chairman of the university's board of trustees.

Michael Bartley pleaded guilty to federal charges including wire fraud, mail fraud, extortion and theft from a federally-funded entity.

Former SCSU board chairman Jonathan Pinson is on trial for federal charges involving accusations of corruption and misappropriation of funds. He is accused of accepting kickbacks while chairman of the SC State University Board of Trustees.

Bartley testified Tuesday that, although he had no authority to do so and had no experience in real estate, he negotiated and facilitated efforts to get developer Richard Zahn to sell the Sportsman's Retreat property to the university. Zahn appraised the Orangeburg County property at about $3.5 million.

Bartley told the court he had a "gentleman's agreement" that if SC State bought the property, he would get a cut of $30,000. If it went up for auction, he would get an ATV, but would get nothing if somebody else bought Sportsman's Retreat.

Bartley described the trip to Florida he, Pinson and Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin took on a private plane arranged by Zahn. He described the evening that included dinner at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse and a stop at a strip club.  The evening ended with the men taking some of the entertainers back to their hotel rooms. Bartley said one or both of the women ended up in Mayor Benjamin's room. He also said Zahn paid for everything.

Bartley also testified that Pinson later told him to deny Benjamin was on the trip if anyone asked. Also included in the group that night in Florida, according to Bartley, was Dr. Charles Smith from SCSU.

Zahn testified Tuesday afternoon, confirming most of what Bartley testified to earlier in the day. He told the court that he spent about $8,000 the night Benjamin, Pinson, Bartley and Smith visited Orlando. Zahn flew the men down on one of his company's private planes and had a limo waiting at the airport to take them to dinner. After dinner, Zahn said the men went to Rachel's Nightclub, which Zahn said is a "shirtless dance club."

Prior to leaving Rachel's, Zahn said Pinson was talking to two girls who said they wanted to leave with the men and go back with them to the Weston hotel. The girls went back to one of the rooms Zahn booked for the men. Zahn said he could not remember specifics on who was with the girls at the hotel, but only that he did pay for everything that happened that night.

Garlen Wesson, who was the former vice president of research and economic development at SCSU, testified of his involvement in trying to convince university officials to purchase the Sportsman's Retreat. Prosecutors played several phone recordings of Wesson and Pinson from October to November 2011, discussing the Retreat.

Wesson said the property was a good buy for the university. However, it was not until Tuesday's testimony that Wesson was told that Zahn promised Pinson a new Porsche Cayenne if he sold the property.

"I would have had a different view moving forward," Wesson told prosecutors Tuesday, if he knew about the Porsche in 2011. "I would have felt it was not proper to move forward."

Wesson said he ended all plans to purchase the Retreat after he was questioned by the FBI about the property and Pinson. Consideration to purchase the property never made it before SCSU board members or any subcommittee.

Prosecutors questioned Zahn for about an hour before court ended Tuesday. The trial will continue at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, starting back up with Zahn.

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