COLUMBIA, SC — Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin said he will not comment on the ongoing federal trial of a former business associate, including allegations that federal prosecutors have made about him.
The U.S. Attorney’s office has not charged Benjamin. But prosecutors have referred to Benjamin repeatedly during the public corruption case they are making against former S.C. State University board chairman Jonathan Pinson.
“Mayor Benjamin is being prayerful and patient,” his spokesman, Michael Wukela, said Thursday to a request by The State newspaper for a reaction from the mayor. “As a potential witness in this trial, he wants to respect the judicial process and allow it to run its course.”
Benjamin played an active role in getting bank loans with Pinson, and instead of using the loans to pay for projects, Pinson and Benjamin used the money “to line their own pockets,” Assistant U.S. Attorney DeWayne Pearson alleged in his opening argument Monday.
On Thursday, a witness described Benjamin, Pinson and others being on an overnight business trip in Florida and taking two women from a strip club back to their hotel.
The mayor “will not comment on any of the claims or allegations raised until the conclusion of this trial,” Wukela said. “At that time he will engage both the public and the media.”
Pinson and Benjamin were the initial developers of Columbia’s Village at River’s Edge housing project on the Broad River in north Columbia. That’s just one of the Pinson projects federal prosecutors are seizing on.