S.C. State University

Pinson’s federal public corruption trial moved to January

jmonk@thestate.comOctober 2, 2013 

Jonathon Pinson

— The federal public corruption trial of former S.C. State University board chairman Jonathon Pinson has been moved to January.

U.S. Judge David Norton granted the continuance on a motion by Pinson and co-defendant Greenville businessman Eric Robinson, whose lawyers have argued they needed additional time to review “voluminous discovery” and otherwise prepare for trial.

Evidence in possession of the government and turned over to defense includes hours of court-authorized wiretaps of Pinson’s cellphone, according to court records. Other evidence in the case includes Pinson’s and Robinson’s income tax returns, according to court records.

“We have over five months’ of electronic eavesdropping and transcripts to review,” said Pinson’s attorney, Jim Griffin of Columbia.

“We also intend to present a motion to the court in November asking the court to consider whether information obtained from this eavesdropping is able to be used at trial,” Griffin said.

Pinson’s and Robinson’s trial was supposed to have begun this month. A trial would likely be held either in Columbia or Charleston, where Norton lives. It is estimated that it would last up to a month. Various pretrial hearings in the case have been held in both Columbia and Charleston.

In other court action involving Pinson and Robinson, federal prosecutors have made a motion to Norton to have the jury drawn from a statewide pool of jurors instead of a pool chosen just from a 17-county area that stretches roughly from York County in the north, down to Lexington and Richland counties, and over into the Pee Dee, including Horry and Williamsburg counties.

A broader jury selection is needed “given the nature of the allegations in this case, the former positions of the defendants and the amount of publicity generated by this case,” the prosecution’s motion says. The motion was made Friday.

Norton has not yet ruled on the request.

A federal grand jury indicted Pinson and Robinson in December.

The indictment, made public in January, accused Pinson of using his former post of S.C. State University board chairman to “illegally enrich himself and improperly obtain various items of value.”

The same indictment said Robinson was a “close personal friend” and business associate of Pinson, and accused him of using that connection to get business with S.C. State and agree to give Pinson a “kickback.”

Pinson had been on the college’s board since 2005. He served as chairman for about two and a half years, resigning that post in 2011 and leaving the board altogether last December. At the time, he said he wanted to spend more time with his family.

Pinson has ties to Columbia.

In recent years, he was a co-investor with Mayor Steve Benjamin in a residential development project north of downtown called the Village at River’s Edge. Benjamin sold his involvement in the project just days before he announced his 2010 candidacy for mayor.

The Village at River’s Edge is a combination private-public development. Its 28 acres are still partly undeveloped. What completed units there are have been built with the help of considerable amounts of public money. The city of Columbia – using a HUD grant – gave the project a $1.69 million grant to build its streets, sidewalks, water and sewer.

HUD also gave the Columbia Housing Authority $10 million in grant money to pay for things such as architectural fees, landscaping and the construction of 60 housing units with high-energy conservation standards. Part of the money was also used to acquire land at the Village from Pinson.

Currently, the Housing Authority’s 60 rental units are occupied and doing well, said Authority attorney Tim Rogers. “They’ve been up and full with no vacancies. They are nice units. A lot of them have children, and there’s an elementary school nearby.”

Pinson, Benjamin and others also founded the African-American Business Roundtable, whose goal was to formulate public policies that affect minority-owned businesses and the economic status of black South Carolinians.

Reach Monk at (803) 771-8344.

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