Attorney Brian DeQuincey Newman’s law firm was paid more than $82,000, including an outlay of $38,000 for apparent on-the-job legal training for work done for the Richland County transportation penny tax program.
Under a mentor-protege program mentioned in Newman’s November 2014 contract, Davis & Floyd engineering firm was to be Newman’s “team partner.” The engineering firm is to have provided mentoring, documents released to The State newspaper late Friday afternoon show. A mentor is an experienced teacher who helps another person learn.
Documents released Friday from the penny tax program development team reveal new details of the former Columbia city councilman’s work agreement and payments as a subcontractor from the county’s penny-on-the-dollar transportation sales tax. His job included researching property owners, property titles and providing opinions about titles in acquiring land needed for construction projects.
Title work is not an area of expertise listed on the website of Newman’s firm. His legal specialties are criminal defense, personal injury and government relations, according to the firm’s website.
Newman’s firm’s agreement with the penny program includes $38,000 in payment for 190 hours of mentoring, billed at $200 hourly. Newman is the sole attorney in the firm. The payments are billed through the Richland County Office of Small Business Opportunity’s mentor-protege program, according to the documents.
On Monday, Newman 33, voluntarily stepped down from his role working with the penny program. He pleaded guilty Tuesday to failing to file income tax returns for two years and received a suspended sentence.
On Friday, his law license was suspended by the state Supreme Court.
Newman’s law firm’s contract was renewable for up to five years for an estimated $398,000 worth of work over five years.
Under the penny program, approved by voters in 2012, Richland County residents were to pay more than $1 billion in penny sales tax over the next 22 years – money that was intended for road and transportation improvements. Council appointed a project development team to oversee the projects and hire subcontractors, such as Newman, to do various jobs.
In November 2014, Newman’s law firm was subcontracted with the team to do up to $94,650 worth of work providing right-of-way title opinions and updates between January and November 2015, according to the contract.
Newman’s firm billed the team $91,325 over the one-year period and has been paid $82,325, according to the documents. The firm was paid $450 for each title opinion produced and $125 for each title update concerning properties needing to be purchased for right-of-ways for transportation projects.
One of Newman’s attorneys, Bakari Sellers, said Friday he was not familiar with his client’s contract and would not comment.
According to Newman’s contract, “Through the Mentor-Protege Program, training will be received from Tim Seybt, right-of-way manager with team partner Davis & Floyd.”
It is unclear why those mentorship payments were made to Newman’s law firm and not to Tim Seybt or Davis & Floyd.
The contract does not make clear whether Newman is the one responsible for paying Seybt the $38,000 out of Newman’s payments.
Efforts to get clarity on the matter from Bill Cram, executive vice president of M.B. Kahn Construction Co., were unsuccessful. M.B. Kahn, a member of the development team, provided the requested documents regarding Newman’s work for the program.
According to a description presented to a County Council committee in July 2014, the mentor-protege program is “(d)esigned to enable successful firms to provide various forms of business development assistance to program participants. The goal of the program is to enhance the capability of participants to be competitive, achieve entrepreneurial success and contribute to the strength and vigor of the local economy.”
Newman pleaded guilty earlier this week to charges of failing to file income tax returns and failing to pay state income taxes in 2012 and 2013. He has paid his back taxes and his probation was shortened to six months, according to his lawyers.
The same charges also are pending against current Richland County Councilman Kelvin Washington for the years 2012-2014.
The charges stemmed from an ongoing investigation by the state Department of Revenue into the county’s transportation penny tax program.
Lawyers for both men as well as the prosecutor in Newman’s case insisted Tuesday’s charges were personal and have nothing to do with the alleged public corruption investigation of the penny tax program.
Newman, who was raised in Columbia and served on City Council from 2010-15, also will have to pay an as-yet-undetermined amount to the Department of Revenue in interest and penalties on his unpaid taxes.
Newman’s license suspended, financial trustee assigned
Late Friday, the state Supreme Court suspended the law license of former Columbia City Councilman Brian DeQuincey Newman and installed a watchdog for his legal accounts.
“It is ordered that respondent’s license to practice law in this state is suspended until further order of this court,” the order from Chief Justice Costa Pleicones states.
Failure to file and pay income taxes usually results in a 90-day suspension of a lawyer’s law license.
Pleicones did not say how long it would be before Newman’s law license could be re-instated.
The chief justice said lawyer Peyre Lumpkin would assume responsibility for all Newman’s client files and legal accounts. Newman will be barred from accessing those accounts and Lumpkin will be allowed to disburse money from them.
The former councilman pleaded guilty on Tuesday to failure to file state income taxes and pay income taxes for tax years 2012 and 2013.