Jury delivers guilty verdict on 29 charges in Jonathan Pinson case

Published: Jul. 3, 2014 at 8:50 PM EDT|Updated: May. 12, 2016 at 1:21 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Former South Carolina State University board chairman Jonathan Pinson was found guilty of 29 of 45 charges in federal court on Thursday.

The jury returned the verdicts following almost four full days of deliberation where it appeared they could be headed for deadlock.

Federal prosecutors appeared to breath a sigh of relief at the verdicts, which were delivered just after noon.

"We're certainly glad it's over," said Assistant U.S. Attorney J.D Rowell, who also thanked the jury for their work in the past 72+ hours.

Pearson said prosecutors were pleased with the verdicts, especially Pinson's guilty verdicts for racketeering and conspiracy.

"That was the lead count, and that count covers all of the conduct, so obviously we're happy with that verdict," said Pearson.

Jurors received the case Monday morning after closing arguments on Friday where federal prosecutors painted Pinson as a man who used his position on the board to his own advantage.

Prosecutors said Pinson "stuck his hand in the cash drawer over and over" and skimmed money including federal funds off the top for himself. Plus, Rowell pointed out that Pinson agreed to take a Porsche SUV from developer Richard Zahn in a land deal.

Prosecutors also played wiretapped phone calls to make their case against Pinson.

In those calls, Pinson apparently referred to the trustees saying, "I don't give a [expletive] about that board."

In another snippet played for the jury, Pinson said, "I'll be more powerful than most politicians... I'll buy the next Congressional seat," as he detailed the millions he expected to make from his deals.

The jury considered evidence that Pinson was engaged in four different schemes. One scheme revolved around the 2011 homecoming concert at SCSU and Pinson's efforts to steer the concert promotion contract to his close friend and former SCSU roommate, Eric Robinson, in exchange for a kickback.

Other schemes included Pinson's theft of government funds earmarked for the installation of a diaper plant in Marion County. Evidence showed that proceeds from the grant, intended to create jobs in rural Marion County, were instead pocketed by Pinson and his associates, Lance Wright, Tony Williams, and Phil Mims, each of whom has pled guilty to charges related to the fraud, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.

Pinson was also convicted of theft of government funds received from a $10 million American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) grant (commonly known as stimulus money) intended for the development known as the Village at Rivers Edge (VRE).

In the final scheme, the government argued, Pinson used his position as Chairman of the Board of SCSU to influence officials at SCSU to purchase land known as "Sportsman's Retreat." The seller of the property, Richard Zahn, Pinson's business partner, testified that he agreed to pay a kickback to Pinson in the form of a new Porsche Cayenne, an SUV valued at approximately $90,000.

During the two and one-half week trial, the Government called twenty witnesses, introduced approximately 200 exhibits and played 118 secretly recorded telephone calls. The calls, authorized by a court-ordered wiretap, covered from July 21 to November 20, 2011.

Pinson's defense contended he never benefited from any of the deals. They also said several co-defendants exaggerated Pinson's role to authorities to avoid prison time.

In all, Pinson faced 45 counts against him in this case, including bribery, racketeering, bank fraud, wire fraud, and mail fraud.

Meanwhile, co-defendant Eric Robinson was found not guilty on all charges.

Robinson's attorney, Shaun Kent, left the courtroom visibly confident about the verdict and told assembled reporters that he and his client punched out the "bully" federal government.

"Like we said the entire time, he didn't do anything wrong," said Kent of his client. "He didn't do anything wrong, we maintained that the entire time. Unfortunately, he's one of the few people to stand up to the United States government -- he stood up to the bully and punched it in it's face. I'm proud of him."

As for Pinson's sentencing, federal prosecutors say that could take between 60 to 90 days.

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