Former SC State board chairman gets another trial delay

Published: Oct. 2, 2013 at 1:44 AM EDT|Updated: Nov. 19, 2013 at 9:36 PM EST
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Former SC State Board of Trustees chairman Jonathan Pinson
Former SC State Board of Trustees chairman Jonathan Pinson

ORANGEBURG COUNTY, SC (WIS) - The federal public corruption trial for the former head of South Carolina State University's board of trustees is delayed a second time. The trial was supposed to get started this month, but the federal judge assigned to the case granted the defense team a second trial delay. Former board Chairman Jonathon Pinson and his co-defendant and business partner, Eric Robinson, asked to push their trial back to the January 2014 federal court term.

Pinson, Robinson, and former SC State Chief of Police Michael Bartley have been indicted on federal financial kickback charges in connection to the case.

Pinson and Robinson's attorneys asked for the second delay in September for more time to prepare, according to the continuance order. In March, the judge granted an initial delay because the evidence in the case, "is voluminous and that the case is exceedingly complex in nature," according to the March order. The FBI spent four months listening in on and recording cell phone conversations from Pinson's cell phone. The defense will listen to each call and formulate a plan to counter the story prosecutors plan to tell Pinson and Robinson's federal jury.

The first delay, according to the court, allowed Pinson and Robinson's attorneys more time to prepare for trial and possibly new charges. The defense asked for the second delay using the same argument it used in March.

The March 2013 order indicated that federal prosecutors intended to file additional charges against Pinson in April, but no new indictments came down.

According to prosecutors, from 2009 through late 2011, Pinson solicited various "kickbacks" in return for agreements to use his official position to benefit people who agreed to provide items of value and money to him.

In an eight-page federal indictment unsealed Wednesday morning, federal prosecutors say Pinson and his "close personal friend" Eric Robinson violated the Hobbs Act, which prohibits actual or attempted robbery or extortion affecting interstate or foreign commerce. The statute is frequently used in connection with cases involving public corruption, commercial disputes, and corruption directed at members of labor unions.

Prosecutors say Pinson and Robinson worked together to illegally secure a contract for WE Entertainment, a concert promotions business Robinson was involved with, to manage SC State's 2011 Homecoming concert. In return, Robinson and WE Entertainment agreed to provide Pinson with a kickback, according to prosecutors. The indictment did not state what the alleged kickback was.

The concert was paid for by SCSU through fees charged to students. In addition, the university received more than $10,000 in federal funds during the time periods relevant to the indictment.

Pinson is also accused of extorting a $100,000 Porsche Cayenne from a Florida businessman in return for using his influence to arrange the university's purchase of a property in Orangeburg County called the "Sportsman's Retreat."

Robinson and Pinson used cellular telephones and made trips to Florida and Georgia for the purposes of the conspiracy, according to the indictment. Pinson, according to prosecutors, also took at least one trip to Florida in a private jet. Prosecutor said he wanted SC State to pay $3 million for the tract.

The FBI says wire taps between July and November, 2011 helped to catch Pinson devising the land scheme.

In February, SC State's former Chief of Police Michael Bartley pleaded guilty in Charleston to conspiracy.

Bartley has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in Pinson's case.

Prosecutors said he confessed to receiving a payment of $30,000 and an ATV in return for his promotion of the university's purchase of the "Sportsman's retreat." Bartley, according to prosecutors, was a friend of the Florida businessman.

Bartley was one of eight university employees fired in February of 2012 during what was characterized as an internal investigation. At the time, the university did not discuss who was fired or for what reasons.

He is free on $10k bond and will be sentenced on an undetermined date. Bartley faces 5 years in prison and a $250k fine if convicted.

Pinson was released on $25,000 bond Thursday afternoon after pleading not guilty in Columbia. Robinson was released on $15,000 bond.

Pinson joined the SC State's Board of Trustees in 2005. He was elected chairman in 2009, but relinquished his chairmanship on February, 2012 to devote more time to his family and his business. He continued serving as a trustee until December, 2012.

"South Carolina State University and its students are the victims of the crime charged in this Information, not the target," said United States Attorney Bill Nettles." This investigation does not target South Carolina State University. Rather, this Information focuses on an individual who used his position and relationships in an effort to line his pockets at the University's expense."

Nettles said other charges are expected in connection with this ongoing investigation.

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