Attorneys for Greenville businessman Jonathan Pinson, convicted last month on federal charges ranging from conspiracy to commit racketeering to misusing his former position of chairman of the S.C. State University Board of Trustees, have filed a final motion to convince a judge to overturn the jury’s verdict.
The 18-page motion, filed late Thursday night, is likely to be the final argument before U.S. Judge David Norton as he weighs contentions by defense lawyers that Pinson should get another trial against assertions by federal prosecutors that Pinson’s guilty verdicts on 29 counts including money laundering and kickbacks should stand.
Despite the jury’s findings, defense lawyers argued that prosecutors had overreached legally and factually in numerous ways and therefore, Norton should rule there was insufficient evidence to establish guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Now it is up to Norton to either set a hearing for oral arguments or deny the defense motions. In that event, the judge would begin to schedule a date for sentencing Pinson, who faces up to 20 years in prison.
Prior to Thursday’s defense filing, defense and prosecution lawyers each filed lengthy motions with Norton, the defense asking him to grant a new trial or overturn the verdict, and the prosecution saying the verdict should stand.
Such defense motions for a new trial and to set aside verdicts are standard after a jury’s guilty finding. Judges rarely grant such requests, but arguments in them help set the stage for appeals to higher courts.
In their latest filing, defense lawyers made a final legal attack on the four major schemes the jury found Pinson guilty of acting illegally on.
Those schemes involved the skimming of federal money from a public-private housing development at the Village at River’s Edge in Columbia, the misuse of federal money to bring a Georgia diaper plant to Marion County, kickbacks connected to a 2011 S.C. State University homecoming concert and a proposed land acquisition by that university. The jury also agreed that Pinson misused his position as S.C. State board chair to profit illegally.
Pinson’s trial, which began in mid-June and ran 14 days, was closely watched in the Midlands and around the state.
It featured 118 excerpts of dozens of Pinson cell phone conversations secretly recorded by the FBI.
In the conversations, Pinson and others are heard plotting to make money illegally, prosecutors argued. More than 20 people testified at trial, including four of six co-conspirators who pleaded guilty, along with a fifth, before trial. The FBI tapes and co-conspirator testimony was crucial to the government’s case.
While Pinson – who did not take the witness stand – is exposed to up to 20 years in prison, his six co-conspirators are expected to get off with minimal prison sentences or probation because of their cooperation with the government.