SC State corruption probe to hit court Thursday

cleblanc@thestate.comJanuary 10, 2013 

— South Carolina’s top federal prosecutor said Wednesday that hearings are scheduled today in two cities regarding a public corruption investigation at S.C. State University.

U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles said in a news release that a hearing will be held at 11 a.m. in a Charleston courtroom before federal Judge David Norton. The second hearing is set for 2:30 p.m. at Columbia’s Matthew Perry Courthouse before U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph McCrorey.

Nettles’ office provided no details other than to say the hearings are in connection with “public corruption involving South Carolina State University.”

Trustees for the 116-year-old historically black public college in Orangeburg have called a news conference for 5 p.m.

The school had perhaps its most tumultuous year in 2012. The turmoil was deep even for a university that has been roiled by controversy for years.

The first signs of deepening troubles came as 2011 ended and then-president George E. Cooper hired former SLED director Reggie Lloyd to conduct an internal investigation into allegations of criminal conduct, ethical misconduct and mismanagement. The college also created a legal affairs committee.

Before Lloyd could finish his investigation, Cooper had left the college in March and the board of trustees had suspended the probe on March 30, saying that Cooper – not the board – had retained Lloyd. The board did not ask Lloyd for a report of his findings.

During the investigation, eight high-level university employees were fired in February, including Ed Givens, the chief of staff and the college’s lead attorney. University officials withheld the names of the eight for two weeks after their dismissals and has yet to explain why they were fired.

Three board members stepped down within one month early last year, two of whom said the board was incapable of reforming itself or effectively governing the university.

Another board member, Upstate businessman Jonathan Pinson, resigned as chairman in February. He left the board altogether last month, saying he wants to spend more time with his family.

Pinson’s resignation of his leadership position set off contentious fights for the chairmanship.

The public battles escalated to the point that the school’s best-known graduate, Congressman Jim Clyburn, said of the college, “politically, it is a cesspool.” Speaking to an Orangeburg Kiwanis and Rotary club, Clyburn said in May 2012, “Fundamentally, there is absolutely nothing wrong with South Carolina State.”

Reach LeBlanc at (803) 771-8664.

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