Former Columbia city councilman pleads guilty to tax charges

Former Columbia city councilman pleads guilty to tax charges
Councilman Kelvin Washington also turned himself in on Tuesday.
Councilman Kelvin Washington also turned himself in on Tuesday.

RICHLAND COUNTY, SC (WIS) - Two Midlands politicians have turned themselves in on charges that arose during a separate South Carolina Department of Revenue investigation into administration of the Penny Transportation Tax.

Former Columbia City Councilman Brian DeQuincey Newman turned himself into the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center Tuesday morning. The SC Department of Revenue stated that Newman is charged with two counts of failure to file a tax return for 2012 and 2013, and failed to report approximately $201,179 of his income.

"Brian admitted that he made a mistake. I mean we all do that," attorney Bakari Sellers said. "You may say we all do our taxes but we also make mistakes. And one of the things that Pete and I had to do was put our client in the best possible situation. When he found out about it we turned him in, he wanted to take full responsibility so we pled him today and he's ready to move on with his life."

Current Richland County Councilman Kelvin Washington also turned himself in and was charged with three counts of willful failure to file a tax return. Washington reportedly failed to file state tax returns for 2012, 2013, and 2014, failing to report a total of $426,776 of income during those years.

Both appeared in bond hearings Tuesday morning and both were released on personal recognizance bonds.

Washington was given a $15,000 bond and was immediately free to go because he has no criminal record and was not deemed a flight risk.

Newman, who was flanked by three attorneys -- including Sellers -- was released on a $10,000 bond. He appeared in court on Tuesday and plead guilty to the charges. He received no jail time. Instead, Newman was sentenced to years probation suspended to six months once he pays almost $11,000 in back taxes and court costs.

"These are personal tax issues, nothing to do with the penny tax. This is not a penny tax issue," Sellers said. "He did not violate the public trust."

Newman released a statement saying he has cooperated with the Department of Revenue and that he takes full responsibility for his actions and that he did not "jeopardize the integrity" of his position on council.

"I recognize the gravity of my mistake and plan to do everything in my power to make this right and to avoid making mistakes in the future," the statement said.

The review brought up three areas of concern: the procurement of the Project Development team, which, according to the letter, "raises questions of potential public corruption and fraud;" several instances of illegal activity by people and companies associated with the program; and certain expenditures that fall outside state and county law.

Richland County voters narrowly approved the controversial penny tax in 2012 to fund various transportation-related projects countywide.

The DOR did not name names that are the continued focus of their investigation, but says that investigation is within the scope of the department's mission. Other matters alleged by DOR are not and, for that reason, SLED has been involved in this investigation.

The DOR cites improper payment of more than $619,000 for services through the county's Small Local Business Enterprise program. The DOR says that spending is not specifically for transportation projects as required by law.

The investigation included questionable spending of as much $3 million to hire two PR firms to handle public information about penny projects over a 5-year period.

As of Nov. 19 more than $68.2 million had been spent under the penny tax program.

Richland County Council released a statement on the matter saying they will continue to cooperate with DOR's investigation and that Washington will be "dealt with by the proper authorities."

"If there is any required action by Richland County Council, we are prepared to call a meeting and act accordingly," the statement said.

Neither Washington or Newman have been directly charged in the investigation into the tax program.

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