Fla. developer to plead in SC State University kickback probe

Alleged kickback scheme involved former trustee

The Associated PressFebruary 6, 2013 

A Florida developer charged as part of an alleged kickback scheme involving a former trustee at South Carolina State University is expected to plead guilty Friday.

Richard Zahn is facing a charge of conspiracy to defraud the federal government, according to documents filed this week in federal court.

Zahn was referenced in other filings in the government’s case against Jonathan Pinson, a former trustee at the Orangeburg school. Prosecutors say Zahn owned some land near the university called the “Sportsman’s Retreat” and asked Pinson to help him sell it to the university.

As a “thank you” gift for his help, prosecutors say the Longwood, Fla., developer told Pinson during an October 2011 phone call that he would buy him a Porsche SUV. Pinson was arraigned last month on a federal kickback charge.

Zahn is to appear in court in Charleston on Friday for a plea hearing.

South Carolina State’s former campus police chief has already pleaded guilty to conspiracy and will be sentenced later. Authorities said they monitored Pinson’s phone calls in 2011 and learned of his deal with Michael Bartley, who they said also agreed to help promote the property sale – which never happened – in exchange for about $30,000 and an all-terrain vehicle.

Bartley, who confessed and agreed to help prosecutors, has pleaded guilty to conspiracy and will be sentenced later.

Pinson, a former partner of Columbia mayor Steve Benjamin in the Village at River’s Edge development, was arraigned last month on two felony counts of interference with commerce by threat of violence.

Prosecutors also said Pinson conspired with a Greenville businessman, Eric Robinson, to get kickbacks in exchange for using Robinson’s entertainment company to promote a 2011 homecoming concert at S.C. State.

Both men have pleaded not guilty and face up to 20 years in prison if convicted. Authorities have said they expect more indictments.

Pinson joined the South Carolina State board of trustees in 2005 and served as its chairman for several years until last February.

He decided then to resign the leadership post, but held on to his seat on the board before leaving altogether in December, citing professional and family obligations.

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