Jonathan Pinson, the former S.C. State University board chairman recently sentenced to five years in prison for racketeering, has hired a prominent appeals specialist to try to keep him out of prison.
Pinson hired former 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Billy Wilkins, now a lawyer in private practice in Greenville.
Wilkins will oversee Pinson’s appeal to the 4th Circuit he once led.
Wilkins is a member of the Nexsen Preut law firm of Columbia, which has been beefing up its white collar criminal law practice. Wilkins, who served as a federal district judge from 1981-1986 and 4th Circuit judge from 1986-2007, leads that law firm’s appeals and white collar crime practices.
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Earlier this week, Wilkins filed a notice of appeal with Judge David Norton, who on May 19 sentenced Pinson to five years in prison.
According to public records in the case, Wilkins has written to Norton asking the judge to allow Pinson to travel out of state in June and July to attend various football recruiting camps and visit colleges with his high school-age son.
Wilkins told the judge that Pinson and his son plan to visit the University of North Carolina, Duke University, Georgia State and Georgia Tech, the University of Miami, the University of Georgia and the USA Football national team game in Philadelphia in late July.
Norton has apparently granted that request, filing an order that said he has extended Pinson’s time to report to federal prison.
When Norton sentenced Pinson last month, he did not set a specific time for Pinson to report.
It is normal for judges not to set a prison reporting date because the federal Bureau of Prisons has to check on where the vacancies are in the prison system. Felons who are not deemed flight risks, such as Pinson, are allowed to remain free until the prison system tells them when and where to report.
Wilkins also filed a motion for Pinson to remain free pending his appeal. An appeal to the 4th Circuit could last up to two years or longer.
In his motion, Wilkins argued that Pinson should remain free because he is not likely to flee and because “his appeal raises substantial questions of law or fact likely to result in reversal of his convictions or a new trial.”
The motion also said that Wilkins had asked government prosecutors to go along with allowing Pinson to remain free pending appeal. But they refused.
It is not known when Norton will rule on that request.
Last July, a federal jury in Columbia found Pinson guilty of 29 of 45 felony counts and acquitted him on 16.
He did not testify during the trial. The government spent three years in investigating and bringing the case – one of its most complex in recent years – to trial in Columbia. Its investigators included a low-profile, joint FBI-SLED public corruption team task force that targets officials in South Carolina.
The biggest guilty verdict came on count No. 1, which charged Pinson, 44, with racketeering, or being part of an ongoing criminal enterprise engaged in crimes like money laundering, theft of federal funds, wire fraud, bribery and extortion.
Prosecutors had labeled Pinson the “mastermind” racketeer of an operation that involved a half-dozen others and four separate money-making schemes.
Up to the time he was indicted, Pinson was regarded as a high-flying businessman and was friends with politicians such as Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin and Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C. Pinson was also a Liberty Fellow, an elite group of South Carolinians selected each year by Greenville philanthropist Hayne Hipp to be groomed for leadership positions in South Carolina.
Last month, Hipp spoke at Pinson’s sentencing, asking the judge for leniency.