Crime & Courts

SC governor’s top aide testifies in secret corruption probe

SC governor's top aide testifies in secret corruption probe

SC Gov. Henry McMaster's top aide talks to The State after testifying in state grand jury corruption probe.
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SC Gov. Henry McMaster's top aide talks to The State after testifying in state grand jury corruption probe.

S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster’s top aide testified Wednesday before a State Grand Jury led by a special prosecutor whose ongoing public corruption probe has ensnared four Republican lawmakers so far.

Trey Walker, McMaster’s chief of staff, was inside the State Grand Jury offices for more than two hours Wednesday.

When he emerged, he told The State newspaper he testified as a witness and was told he is not a target in the probe being led by special prosecutor David Pascoe.

Walker, 50, said he was asked nothing about McMaster, who he said has not been asked to testify. Walker said he received a subpoena recently, but would not reveal the exact day.

“I appeared as a witness today (and) was happy to come in and tell everything I know. I’m informed that I am not a target,” he said.

“Gov. McMaster was not a subject and did not come up,” Walker added.

Walker said he would not reveal the specific questions he was asked during the State Grand Jury session. Nor would he say whether he was asked about a powerful Columbia political firm, Richard Quinn & Associates, which is one apparent target in the probe. Walker also declined comment on whether he was asked about any powerful companies, lawmakers or state agencies that have had relationships with the Quinn firm.

Walker was accompanied by his personal lawyer, Butch Bowers of Columbia, who has represented numerous public figures in high-profile public issues. In previous cases, Bowers has represented former Gov. Mark Sanford as impeachment was being discussed, and he represented former Gov. Nikki Haley in ethics matters.

Walker is an obvious candidate for being called to testify, given his ties to others who are under investigation.

Walker worked for Richard Quinn & Associates in the early 2000s, while the firm expanded its stable of clients. They now include some of the state’s most powerful politicians, including S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson, R-Lexington, and, until recently, Walker’s boss, McMaster.

In March, the Quinns’ Columbia office on Gervais Street was raided by investigators with the State Law Enforcement Division, who seized a trove of documents, computers and hard drives. Richard Quinn has not been charged with any wrongdoing, but his son, now-suspended state Rep. Rick Quinn, R-Lexington, faces two counts of misconduct in office. He is pleading not guilty.

Walker also worked as a lobbyist for the University of South Carolina and health insurance giant BlueCross BlueShield, both asked to provide information to the State Grand Jury. Both had contracts with the Quinn firm.

Walker is the latest person called to testify before the grand jury.

On Tuesday, the investigative body met and interviewed Pamela Lackey, president of AT&T of South Carolina and a member of the S.C. Ports Authority board of directors.

Pascoe’s probe also has sought documents from the S.C. Ports Authority. The Quinn firm had financial relationships with both AT&T and the Ports Authority.

In a May 23 court hearing that touched on how the Quinns got money from various private businesses, trade groups and public agencies, Pascoe publicly mentioned AT&T as a business that had paid the Quinn firm money.

After getting money from AT&T and other entities, Rick Quinn improperly took action on their behalf in the General Assembly, Pascoe alleged in that May 23 hearing. Rick Quinn is charged with two counts of misconduct in office and has been suspended from the House seat. Richard Quinn has not been charged and has said he has committed no wrongdoing.

Besides AT&T and the Ports Authority, other entities that gave the Quinn firm upwards of $4.5 million over the years were SCANA, BlueCross BlueShield, Palmetto Health, the S.C. Trial Lawyers Association, the University of South Carolina, the payday lending industry “and many, many more,” Pascoe, who had no comment Wednesday, alleged in May.

Pascoe began his probe in 2014 and used the Richland County grand jury to indict House Speaker Bobby Harrell on misconduct charges. His probe was delayed for more than a year, including by a challenge to his authority by Wilson. But last July, the S.C. Supreme Court ruled that Pascoe, as a special prosecutor, had the right to stay on the case.

Since then, Pascoe has indicted Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Berkeley; Sen. John Courson, R-Richland; and Rep. Quinn. Each pleaded not guilty; each has been charged with official misconduct.

Neither McMaster nor the attorney general is still using the Quinn firm for political consulting work these days.

Walker said he has not furnished the State Grand Jury any documents. “I was not subpoenaed to do anything other than to come here today and talk.” Asked if he expected to be a witness in any future court proceeding, Walker said, “Don’t know.”

Walker said he believed he would not have to appear again before the State Grand Jury. “All done,” he said happily.

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