Former S.C. State University board chairman Jonathan Pinson, convicted in federal court in July on multiple public-corruption charges, likely won’t be sentenced until after the New Year, his attorney said.
“This late in the year, I don’t see him being sentenced in December,” attorney Jim Griffin of Columbia said.
Defendants are often, but not always, given about a 30-day lead time once a sentencing date is set, Griffin said. “Nobody is usually sentenced around Christmas Eve.”
Besides the holiday season, another complicating factor is the small pack of five accomplices who testified against him at his trial last summer, or who were ready to testify. They already pleaded guilty.
No sentencing date has been set for those men either.
U.S. Judge David Norton has indicated he would sentence all of them on the same day, or on consecutive days. Sentencing hearings can take up to an hour or longer. Norton, who is based in Charleston, has also said he would do the sentencing in Columbia.
A federal jury convicted Pinson on July 3 after a three-week trial. He was found guilty of 29 of 45 charges, including money laundering, bribery and wire fraud. Some of the charges involved the illegal use of his public position to enrich himself while was board chairman at S.C. State University.
Five of Pinson’s six accomplices in his various crimes testified against him at his trial. All six had pleaded guilty.
Norton gave Givens six months' probation for the crime of accepting a kickback. Givens’ probation period ended in November because Norton made the probation retroactive to May – the month Givens pleaded guilty and accepted responsibility for the crime. Givens also had his law license suspended but is expected to get it back.
The co-conspirator who didn’t testify was Lance Wright, who, like Pinson, is a former S.C. State board member. He was ready to testify, but prosecutors decided not to use him in their case, in which they put up some 20 other witnesses.
Wright provided the original tip to federal law officers that allowed them to seek permission from a judge to put a court-authorized secret wiretap on Pinson’s phone. Wright’s tip led federal officers to secretly record more than 1,000 Pinson conservations in the spring and fall of 2011. Information from those taps led to the guilty pleas of the other five co-conspirators.
Wright, a former Pinson associate, pleaded guilty to various counts of conspiracy involving the development of the Village at River’s Edge housing project in Columbia, which is a Columbia Housing Authority complex. Pinson was a partner in that development, which was built with more than $10 million in federal funds.
Besides testimony from confessed criminals, the trial featured excerpts of FBI wiretaps of some 1,800 calls made to and from Pinson’s cell phone from August through early November, 2011.
While Pinson is exposed to a maximum 18 or so years in prison, his co-conspirators are likely to get considerably less time.
Anyone who cooperates with the government often gets little or no prison time.
The other co-conspirators are:
• Michael Bartley, former S.C. State police chief. Bartley pleaded guilty to a federal conspiracy charge for agreeing to accept a payoff of $30,000 and an all-terrain vehicle in exchange for allegedly being part of a Pinson kickback scheme.
• Richard Zahn, a Florida developer. He pleaded guilty to participating in a kickback scheme in which he tried to sell S.C. State 121 acres of land he owns near the university. Called Sportsman’s Retreat, the land was pitched to the school as a possible site for a university conference center. On FBI wiretaps played to the jury, Pinson and Zahn are heard discussing Zahn’s plan to give a Pinson a $90,000 Porsche Cayenne SUV in return for Pinson’s help in getting the university to buy Zahn’s land for $2.8 million. Federal agents stepped in before the land was sold.
• Robert “Tony” Williams of Florida. He pleaded guilty to various conspiracy charges involving the Village at River’s Edge and other projects.
• Phillip Mims of Lexington. He pleaded guilty to conspiring to get sizable loans from banks for building projects in Marion County and in the Columbia area and diverting the money to his and others’ personal use.