The former chairman of South Carolina State University’s board of trustees was charged Thursday in a kickback scheme that accuses him of influence pedaling to get himself a $100,000 vehicle and to profit from inflated bills for the college’s 2011 homecoming concert.
Greenville businessman Jonathan Pinson “used his position as chairman of the board to enrich himself,” a federal indictment unsealed in Columbia states.
Pinson, 42, also is accused of conspiring with the fired campus police chief, Michael Bartley, and a Florida businessman, Richard Zahn, to try to get the university to buy property in Orangeburg County known as “Sportsman’s Retreat.”
Using telephone wire taps, prosecutors say they caught Zahn, who owns Sportsman’s Retreat, telling Pinson on Oct. 17, 2011, that once the university buys the property Pinson “would have a (Porsche Cayenne) in his backyard.”
Pinson pleaded not guilty in Columbia. Bartley admitted his guilt in Charleston and is awaiting sentencing, prosecutors said.
Both former S.C. State officials , along with a third defendant – another Greenville businessman – were freed pending future court appearances.
Federal authorities thwarted the sale of Sportsman’s Retreat, prosecutor Mark Moore said duing a hearing Thursday morning in Charleston. Bartley, 48, pleaded guilty and faces a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. But Moore said his office might recommend a lesser penalty because he cooperated with the FBI’s investigation from the beginning.
The indictment of Pinson – which was issued under seal and disclosed Thursday – accuses fellow Greenville businesman Eric Robinson and Robinson’s WE Entertainment company of scheming to steer the contract for promoting the homecoming concert to WE Entertainment.
The maximum penalty Pinson and Robinson could receive is 20 years imprisonment, a $250,000 fine on each count in which they are charged. Pinson faces three counts. Robinson faces two.
Pinson and Robinson pleaded not guilty. They were handcuffed and shackled. Pinson was released on a $25,000 bond; Robinson was released after posting $15,000.
Lawyers for Pinson and Robinson said the charges are baseless and flawed and that their clients intend to fight them.
The indictment contends Robinson helped Pinson collect kickbacks.
In one scheme, Pinson and Robinson conspired to solicit an inflated kickback from Zahn in connection with paying off an unnamed Georgia public official. The indictment does not make details of the scheme clear.
Bartley, who was chief of campus police about five years, admitted in a Charleston courtroom that his share of the Sportsman’s Retreat scheme was $30,000 in cash and an all-terrain vehicle.
Bartley’s charges include violates of the Hobbs Act and other federal statutes.
Trustees for the 116-year-old historically black public college have called a Thursday evening news conference in Orangeburg.
“South Carolina State University and its students are the victims of the crime charged in this Information, not the target,” U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles, the state’s top federal prosecutor, said in a statement.
Pinson, 42, resigned as chairman of the board of trustees in February. He left the board altogether last month, saying he wanted to spend more time with his family. Pinson’s resignation of his leadership position set off contentious fights for the chairmanship.
Pinson, Bartley and Zahn knew each other before they cooked up the conspiracy, Moore said.
Zahn has not been charged, Moore said.