Jonathan Pinson corruption trial delayed until at least June

March 6, 2014 

— A trial in federal court involving alleged wrongdoing at the City of Columbia’s Village at River’s Edge project and S.C. State University has been delayed at least until June.

According to a notice filed in federal court in Columbia, the trial of Greenville businessman Jonathan Pinson before Judge David Norton has been moved to the June 5 session of federal court.

No special trial date was set, so all that officials can say now is that it is possible the trial could begin in June.

The case was supposed to be tried later this month.

The reason for the delay is that prosecutors recently located more than 10,000 pages of documents that they were supposed to have turned over to the defense before trial. Under the law, prosecutors are supposed to turn over to the defense all documents that might help a defendant establish innocence.

“It was just an oversight,” assistant U.S. Attorney Beth Drake said Thursday. When double-checking a list of documents that were supposed to be turned over to the defense, prosecutors found some subpoenas and responses to them that had not been given out, she said.

Pinson lawyer Griffin of Columbia agreed. “It appears to be an oversight.”

Griffin, government prosecutors and lawyer Shaun Kent of Manning – who represents Pinson co-defendant Eric Robinson – recently agreed to ask Judge Norton for the delay. Norton had no objection.

When held, the trial may take up to three weeks or longer.

The trial will feature numerous witnesses, FBI agents, and all kinds of evidence, from covert wiretaps to secret recordings made by body microphones to possibly, bank records. Of some 5,103 wiretaps, prosecutors have said some 700 are pertinent. Excerpts from 20 or 30 might be played to the jury.

The investigation has taken almost three years and covers events going back as far as 2006. The trial is expected to take up to three weeks. The government is using at least four federal prosecutors – Jane Taylor, Nancy Wicker, J.D. Rowell and DeWayne Pearson.

Pinson and Robinson face a variety of public corruption charges involving activities at S.C. State University and at Columbia’s Village at River’s Edge housing project, in which Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin once was a partner.

A 69-page indictment made public in November contains some 100 alleged overt criminal acts and dozens of counts against both Pinson and Robinson .

Most charges are against Pinson, and Robinson ’s attorney, Kent has failed in a bid to get the judge to make prosecutors try Robinson separately.

The charges against Pinson and Robinson have a tangled history.

Although the probe originally targeted alleged city of Columbia corruption at River’s Edge, federal prosecutors first indicted Pin-son and Robinson on a two-count, 8-page indictment unveiled last January. This indictment was wholly concerned with allegations involving the men’s ties to S.C. State University.

Then, in early November, prosecutors unveiled a "superseding indictment," which for the first time detailed charges involving the Village at River’s Edge, as well as various other charges, including some related to S.C. State.

That one, 69 pages long, charged Pinson with 51 counts of illegal activity, and Robinson , 11 counts. Robinson was not charged with any alleged illegalities at River’s Edge.

Already in this case, five other defendants have pleaded or agreed to plead guilty and are expected to testify against Pinson and Robinson at the March trial in return for lighter sentences.

They include Lance Wright, Phillip Mims and Robert "Tony" Williams, who confessed to bank fraud and conspiracy and to being involved with white collar crimes with Pinson .

Another is former S.C. State University campus police chief Michael Bartley, who has pleaded guilty to conspiracy in connection with expecting a $30,000 payoff and an all-terrain vehicle for helping Pinson in a land deal with the university, according to court documents.

Florida land developer Richard Zahn, a friend of Bartley’s, has pleaded guilty to getting Pinson to use his influence as chairman of S.C. State University’s board of trustees to have the school buy that property in Orangeburg County. In return, Zahn was to give Pinson a new Porsche Cayenne car.

The FBI learned about Bartley’s and Zahn’s dealings in cell phone wiretaps originally approved to target city of Columbia officials, according to court documents and a lawyer’s statements in court. The land exchange never went through.

Pinson and Robinson both insist they are innocent.

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