Ex-SC State board chairman has racketeering conviction overturned

Updated: Jun. 19, 2017 at 4:08 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The former board chairman at South Carolina State University convicted of 29 counts related to a kickback scheme and theft of government funds has had one of his convictions overturned.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the racketeering conviction of Jonathan Pinson on Monday.

Pinson, who was convicted in 2014, was allegedly involved in four 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 pleaded 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 in federal stimulus money intended for the development known as the Village at Rivers Edge.

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.

While the judge in this case largely affirmed many of the counts Pinson was convicted of, the racketeering charge faced greater scrutiny. Government prosecutors were trying to prove that the various criminal acts Pinson had committed at SC State were part of an ongoing criminal enterprise. But the appeals court found there was no evidence strong enough to support that link.

Pinson's criminal accusations started while he was the board chairman at SC State. He joined the board in 2005 and was elected to chair in 2009.

The FBI tapped Pinson's cell phone in 2011 and listened in for four months. Pinson stepped down as chairman shortly after the university fired eight high-level employees during an internal investigation in February 2012 and left the board in December 2012. Pinson was indicted by the feds a month later.

Pinson's remaining convictions are being sent back to federal court in South Carolina for resentencing. No date has been set for the resentencing hearing.

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