For the first time, special prosecutor David Pascoe has revealed how suspended state Sen. John Courson, R-Richland, came to be investigated.
In a legal filing Friday with the state grand jury, Pascoe wrote that last winter, during an analysis of financial records of political consulting firm Richard A. Quinn & Associates, investigators stumbled upon numerous suspicious checks written to Courson.
The reason Pascoe revealed how Courson came to be investigated was to counter a legal motion by Courson’s attorney, Rose Mary Parham.
Parham, in filings this summer, contended Pascoe exceeded his legal authority as special prosecutor by indicting Courson. She argued Pascoe has the authority to investigate only two state lawmakers and that Courson, one of South Carolina’s most respected and longest-serving senators, is not one of them.
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Parham’s contention that his authority is limited to only two individuals named in a once-confidential State Law Enforcement Division report is “absurd,” Pascoe said.
In his Friday filing, Pascoe said investigators found information on Courson while plowing through records from Richard Quinn & Associates, the political consulting firm Courson used. Pascoe was looking at Quinn & Associates records because the firm was named in the 2013 confidential SLED report along with the two lawmakers Parham refers to, Pascoe argued.
“Thus, (Courson’s) indictments were not the result of an expanded investigation but were discovered in the course of the initial investigation,” Pascoe wrote. “... The state grand jury acted well within its statutory authority.”
Courson, 72, a state senatorsince 1985, was indicted in March. He faces charges of converting campaign funds for personal use and misconduct in office. He says he is innocent, but he has been suspended from the Senate, as is required by state law.
Pascoe wrote that “SLED discovered 13 separate occasions on which checks drawn on the John Courson for Senate campaign account were paid to Richard Quinn & Associates for a total of $247,829.81.” On each of those 13 occasions, Richard Quinn and Associates wrote a check to John Courson personally, and those 13 checks totaled $132,802, Pascoe wrote.
In all, Pascoe wrote, “approximately 54 percent of the funds paid by Courson’s campaign account to Richard Quinn & Associates were kicked back to Courson personally.”
The path to Courson’s indictment began in late 2016, when “SLED received a large volume of bank records pursuant to a state grand jury subpoena,” Pascoe wrote.
“Those records included checks written to and from a bank account held by First Impressions Inc., d/b/a/ Richard Quinn & Associates,” Pascoe wrote.
“In the months that followed receipt of those records, SLED worked to catalog and analyze the bank records to search for evidence of political corruption,” Pascoe wrote. “In the course of analyzing these financial records, SLED found a series of payments from (Courson’s) political campaign account to Richard Quinn & Associates and accompanying payments from Richard Quinn & Associates to (Courson) personally.”
The subpoenas for information from Richard Quinn & Associates had been issued to get records pertaining to a then-ongoing state grand jury investigation of S.C. Rep. Rick Quinn, R-Lexington, the son of political consultant Richard Quinn, Pascoe wrote.
Rick Quinn was indicted in May by the state grand jury on two counts of misconduct in office. Now suspended, he is pleading innocent and has said that Pascoe, a Democrat, is on a “partisan witch hunt.”
No date for a hearing before a judge on Parham’s motions has been announced.
Both Pascoe and Parham have said they want a speedy trial. But if Parham prevails, the charges would be dismissed.
In a separate motion filed earlier this summer, Parham also asserted that the misconduct law that Courson had been indicted on was not an actual law under which anyone could be indicted.
Pascoe wrote in his response that the offense is a real offense that “results in numerous convictions each year” in South Carolina. Since 2000, more than 200 convictions on misconduct charges have been obtained in South Carolina, he wrote.
Pascoe’s investigation is now believed to focus on Richard Quinn & Associates and its relationships with lawmakers, lobbyists, state agencies and private corporations.
Pascoe was named special prosecutor in 2014 by Attorney General Alan Wilson because Wilson has ties to some of the individuals potentially under SLED investigation at the time.
The other lawmaker named in the SLED report was Jim Merrill, the then-Republican House majority leader from Berkeley County. Merrill was indicted on 30 charges of misconduct in office and ethics violations in December.