Jonathon Pinson and his co-defendant Eric Robinson entered not guilty pleas Tuesday on their latest criminal charges, which include alleged wrongdoing at Columbia’s Village at River’s Edge housing project.
The two were arraigned before Magistrate Judge Joseph McCrorey in federal court Tuesday. Their court appearance, which lasted only a few minutes, was the first since they were freshly indicted Nov. 7.
Pinson’s attorney, Jim Griffin of Columbia, said his client intends to “very vigorously” fight the government’s charges, contained in a 69-page indictment handed up earlier this month. The indictment basically describes Pinson as using various shell corporations to illegally enrich himself and others in various alleged schemes.
Shawn Kent, Robinson’s lawyer, said his client is looking forward to trial to clear his name. “The allegations are strange, at best,” he said.
Last week, Griffin filed a lengthy motion with the court to suppress evidence gathered by FBI judge-approved wiretaps in the case.
More than a dozen wiretaps were repeatedly referred to in the indictment unveiled Nov. 7. Information gleaned from those wiretaps during a two-year investigation is essential to the government’s case.
One piece of evidence, called exhibit 3, concerns “city of Columbia City Council’s discussions re: The Village at River’s Edge,” according to a non-sealed but brief description of that evidence in a motion Griffin filed Friday.
Other evidence now under seal is described as a “chart containing information derived from wiretap and designated confidential by the government,” according to Griffin’s motion.
In his filing, Griffin gave numerous reasons why the government’s wiretapping evidence should be suppressed, including that it contains false information and that proper wiretapping procedures weren’t followed. To suppress evidence means that the judge would throw it out of the case and not allow a jury to hear it.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Columbia has not filed a response to Griffin’s motion.
A Dec. 18 hearing has been set in Charleston before U.S. Judge David Norton. Norton will rule on whether any of the government’s wiretap evidence should be suppressed.
Portions of the wiretaps could be played in open court during that hearing.
The indictment unveiled Nov. 7 charges Pinson, 43, with 51 counts of various kinds of fraud and illegal activities and Robinson, 43, with 11 counts.
It alleges that Pinson — former chairman of S.C. State University’s board of trustees — and Robinson used their political and personal connections and business expertise to commit a host of white collar crimes.
These alleged crimes include money laundering through shell corporations, bribes, kickbacks (which the accused allegedly called “love offerings”), racketeering, extortion and the use of public money and bank loans for illegal purposes.
That indictment had numerous references to Columbia and the public-private Village at River’s Edge development.
According to the indictment and federal officials, Pinson gave a former Columbia city employee identified in the indictment only as “Person A” a $5,000 check for help with respect to the Village at River’s Edge project.
Pinson devised an illegal scheme to accept wire transfers of public money from the Columbia Housing Authority that were supposed to go toward building 60 public housing units at the Village at River’s Edge, according to the indictment. Pinson then “engaged in skimming by illegally keeping a portion of each of the various wire transfers for his own personal use,” the indictment said.
Reach Monk at (803) 771-8344.