The S.C. Ethics Commission will take up Wednesday morning the question of whether Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin should have reported an all-expenses-paid December 2010 trip to Florida in a developer’s private jet.
Benjamin and his lawyer, Greg Harris, contend it was a “personal business trip,” because at that time the developer, Richard Zahn, had not proposed doing specific business with the city of Columbia.
Days after the trip, Zahn wrote an email in which he told Benjamin it was “an honor to meet you and discuss your vision for the city of Columbia.” In that email, Zahn proposed a development workshop in the next month to discuss “a possible strategy for the city of Columbia.” No specific projects were mentioned in the email.
The email surfaced earlier this summer in the federal criminal public corruption trial of Jonathan Pinson, former chairman of the S.C. State University board of trustees. Pinson is a longtime business partner, friend and political supporter of the mayor. Pinson, found guilty by a federal jury of more than two dozen counts of wrong-doing, also was along on that trip.
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Besides being a lawyer, Benjamin is a developer and businessman.
Harris has given the Ethics Commission a packet containing “information of which they were not aware of” concerning Benjamin and the Florida trip.
The most likely outcomes of Wednesday’s meeting are that the Ethics Commission will take no action, or it will ask Benjamin to submit a revised ethics report reflecting that he received a free airplane trip to Florida, along with lodging and food.
State ethics law requires disclosure by public officials of trips that others give to them, because of the officials’ public positions or because the trips concern government business.