Indicted state Sen. John Courson went free Wednesday on his promise to show up for future court appearances, and a special prosecutor revealed new details of the criminal charges against the veteran senator.
At the end of a 15-minute hearing at the Richland County courthouse, Judge Knox McMahon allowed Courson, a Richland Republican, to remain free on a personal recognizance bond of $16,000.
Minutes before, special prosecutor David Pascoe described in detail three of 13 allegedly illegal two-way transactions Courson, 72, had with the political consulting firm Richard Quinn & Associates.
In the 13 transactions, Pascoe told the judge, Courson paid the Quinn firm large amounts of money from his campaign account and then – within a day or two – received a sizable check back from the Quinn firm. Courson then either deposited it in his personal bank account or got cash for it at his bank.
Courson, in the state Senate since 1985, entered and exited through a side door in the courtroom without speaking to reporters. Pascoe declined to comment after the hearing.
Courson is charged with two counts of misconduct in office and one count of use of campaign funds for personal expenses. He was indicted March 16 by the State Grand Jury. It is illegal to convert campaign donations, which are supposed to be used to help a candidate run for office, into personal money.
One indictment says Courson paid the Quinn firm $247,829 between 2006 and 2012. Then the Quinn firm paid Courson “through multiple transactions” $132,802, the indictment said.
During the Wednesday hearing, Pascoe shared details of three of the 13 transactions, including:
▪ On Aug. 21, 2008, the Courson for Senate campaign wrote a check to Richard Quinn & Associates for $19,861. The memo line said “consulting.” On the same day, the Quinn firm wrote a check to Courson personally for $8,861 – exactly $11,000 less. Then Courson endorsed and cashed it at his bank, Bank of America. Nothing is written on that check’s memo line.
▪ On Nov. 11, 2010, the Courson for Senate campaign wrote a check to Richard Quinn & Associates for $19,860. The memo line said “mailing, printing and consulting.” The same day, the Quinn firm wrote a check to Courson for $8,860. It was endorsed and cashed by Courson at his bank. Nothing is on that check’s memo line.
▪ On Nov. 28, 2012, the Courson for Senate campaign wrote a check to Richard Quinn & Associates for $35,116 with “Victory Bonus” written in the memo line. The next day, the Quinn firm wrote a check to Courson personally for $32,000 with nothing in the memo line. Courson deposited about $23,000 in his personal bank account and got about $9,000 in cash.
The words “Victory Bonus” on the Courson for Senate campaign $35,116 check Nov. 28, 2012, “raised a red flag for investigators,” Pascoe told the judge.
“All the rest of the checks were under $10,000,” Pascoe said.
Longtime S.C. General Assembly-watcher and ethics expert John Crangle said prosecutors like Pascoe find multiple deposits of money at banks for less than $10,000 especially questionable. Under federal law, checks cashed at banks that are more than $10,000 must be reported to the Internal Revenue Service, Crangle said.
Courson’s attorney, Rose Mary Parham, said after the hearing, however, that every single one of those checks were lawful and that she was looking forward to a jury trial in the case. “Those are legitimate campaign expenditures,” Parham said. “We will prove that.”
Parham said she has filed a motion for Courson to get a speedy trial, hopefully within 60 days. She told the judge Courson has Stage IV cancer. Courson told The State newspaper last week that he he has melanoma, a sometimes fatal skin cancer.
The Quinn firm has ties to prominent politicians such as Gov. Henry McMaster and U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, as well as to institutions such as the University of South Carolina.
Quinn, 71, the firm’s founder, has denied wrongdoing.
About a month ago, State Law Enforcement Division agents raided Quinn’s Columbia area headquarters, seizing large amounts of documents and other data. Quinn has declined comment on the raid.
During the hearing, Parham – who called Courson “an American hero” – said the ordeal is stressful for his health and can harm his immune system.
“A month ago, the last place (Courson) thought he was going to be was in a courtroom in front of a judge,” Parham said. “He wants to be back in that Senate representing his constituency, and it saddens him that he’s not able to do that.”