COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin finally broke his silence Thursday, releasing a statement about his involvement with former business partner Jonathan Pinson and a 2010 business trip involving strippers.
Benjamin said last week he wouldn't comment about testimony in the Pinson federal corruption case until after the trial was over.
In that testimony, several witnesses testified in December 2010, Benjamin, Pinson, Florida businessman Richard Zahn, and other South Carolina State University officials went to a strip club in Orlando, then brought two women back to their hotel room.
"… I regret being present for certain aspects of the previously referenced trip," Benjamin said in a statement. "I should have used better judgment. However to be clear, I did not at any time engage in any illegal activity while in Orlando."
On Thursday, a 12 member jury found Pinson guilty of racketeering, using his influence as board of trustees chair at South Carolina State University for his own gain.
"We have the Pinson family in our thoughts and prayers," Benjamin said. "As you are aware, I have withheld all comment while this difficult matter was before the court. As has been reported accurately over the past few weeks, I have not been charged with any criminal offenses. Now that a verdict has been rendered, it needs to be made clear that I have done nothing illegal."
Benjamin maintains he terminated his ownership interest at a business development involving Pinson in Aug. 2009.
"…After that date, I no longer maintained any role in the management of the project," Benjamin said. "Furthermore, after my election as Mayor in April of 2010, I conflicted myself out of all decisions directly or indirectly related to the project. This position is well documented at the City of Columbia."
Benjamin also goes on to say that the 2010 Orlando trip was a personal business trip and the trip did not have to be reported to the South Carolina State Ethics Commission.
"…[It was a] one day business trip to Orlando that was not related in any way to City of Columbia business," Benjamin said. "We have met with the Ethics Commission and are confident that after a thorough review of all of the facts, they will determine that it was a personal business trip and as such, not a matter to be reported."