Corruption probe in the South Carolina State House
Republican consultant Richard Quinn Sr., for years a kingmaker in S.C. politics, was indicted Wednesday by the State Grand Jury on a felony charge of criminal conspiracy, as well as a charge of illegal lobbying for failing to register as a lobbyist.
Since the late 1970s, Quinn, 73, has been one of South Carolina’s premier political consultants.
An insider’s insider, he has helped elect many S.C. politicians, nearly all Republicans. His clients have included Gov. Henry McMaster, Attorney General Alan Wilson, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, and U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, all Republicans, as well as Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin, a Democrat.
Wednesday’s indictments capped months of behind-the-scenes activity by Special Prosecutor David Pascoe, the State Grand Jury, and nine State Law Enforcement Division agents. Pascoe, the 1st Circuit solicitor, also has enlisted the help of three other elected solicitors from around the state in the investigation.
Pascoe issued a statement saying “this is still an ongoing investigation.”
All of those indicted Wednesday had ties to Richard Quinn and his firm, Richard Quinn & Associates, which also did business as First Impressions, Mail Marketing Strategies and the Copy Shop.
The illegal lobbying indictment against Quinn says he “did attempt to influence the action or vote of members of the S.C. General Assembly by direct communication on behalf of entities which employed, retained or appointed defendant’s businesses and defendant did not register as a lobbyist ...”
Quinn’s clients have included institutions, trade groups and companies, including the University of South Carolina, the S.C. Ports Authority, SCANA, Palmetto Health, the S.C. Trial Lawyers Association, AT&T and BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina.
Also indicted Wednesday were:
▪ Former S.C. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee chairman Jim Harrison, 66, R-Richland, on charges of criminal conspiracy, common law misconduct in office and statutory misconduct in office.
While he was in the Legislature, Harrison worked for Quinn’s consulting firm, Richard Quinn & Associates. Harrison is now the $155,000-a-year-plus director of the General Assembly’s Legislative Council, which helps draft bills. Harrison also is on The Citadel’s Board of Visitors, the college’s governing board.
▪ Former S.C. House Rep. Tracy Edge, 50, R-Horry, on criminal conspiracy, common law misconduct in office, statutory misconduct in office and perjury charges.
While in the Legislature, Edge was on the influential House Ways and Means Committee, which helps direct how the state spends money each year. Edge’s indictment also alleges he gave false testimony to the State Grand Jury “regarding his knowledge of entities doing business” with the Richard Quinn firm.
The State Grand Jury also issued additional indictments against two legislators previously indicted.
▪ Sen. John Courson, 72, R-Richland, was charged with criminal conspiracy and statutory misconduct in office.
In March, the State Grand Jury indicted Courson on charges of converting campaign money for his personal use and common law misconduct in office. Now suspended from office, Courson is awaiting trial. Courson’s March indictment alleged the Republican state senator, who used the Quinn firm as his political consultant, received illegal payments from the Quinn firm totaling $132,802 over a six-year period.
▪ Rep. Rick Quinn Jr., 52, a Lexington Republican and the son of Richard Quinn Sr., was charged with criminal conspiracy.
In May, the State Grand Jury indicted Rick Quinn on two counts of misconduct in office. The earlier indictments say he took $4.5 million from professional groups and then used his public office to “influence governmental decisions involving” those groups.
Defendants say they are innocent
Lawyers for three of the accused said Wednesday their clients are innocent.
Debbie Barbier, who represents Richard Quinn, called him a “extremely well-respected businessman who has done good work for the most-respected politicians out there.”
“We are going to try this case in a court of law and not the media.,” Barbier said. “Richard Quinn is innocent. We look forward to vigorously defending these charges and our defending against these charges.”
Rose Mary Parham, who represents Courson, said, “We look forward to our jury trial so that both sides of the case can be presented” and to appealing “our constitutional issues.”
Parham has raised numerous legal objections to Pascoe’s earlier charges. On Tuesday, however, a Circuit Court judge dismissed her motions.
Greg Harris, who represents Rick Quinn Jr., said: “From Day 1, we have said we want a trial, that Rick is innocent. These charges are really no surprise. There’s no new information. It’s a rehash of some of the same information that we have been digesting over the last four months as we’ve been preparing for trial.”
Harris added he wants Quinn Jr.’s trial held before the filing deadline for S.C. House seats “because Rick intends to run again.”
2 ex-legislators among those charged
Wednesday’s indictments bring the total number of people charged to date in the ongoing investigation into State House corruption to seven – six lawmakers and consultant Quinn.
Two former legislators already have pleaded guilty.
In 2014, then-House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, was charged with filing false campaign reports and misconduct in office. Harrell later entered a guilty plea to misconduct in office and resigned.
In August, former Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Berkeley, pleaded guilty to misconduct in office and resigned.
Harrison and Edge were the first former lawmakers to be charged in the corruption probe.
Harrison was a House member from 1989 to 2012. Edge was in the House from 1996 to 2012, when he was defeated in a Republican primary.
Richard Quinn’s indictment long had been expected.
Over the years, Quinn’s reputation as a power broker with access to and sway over anyone in South Carolina who counted politically was legendary. His political operation even was given a nickname worthy of an empire: “The Quinndom.”
Last March, nine State Law Enforcement Division agents working with Special Prosecutor Pascoe raided Richard Quinn’s Columbia offices, seizing seven computers, eight thumb drives, software including email, tax returns and thousands of other documents.
Charged with criminal conspiracy were: Richard Quinn Sr., state Rep. Rick Quinn, State Sen. John Courson, and former state Reps. Tracy Edge and Jim Harrison. The charge carries a penalty of up to five years in prison or a maximum $5,000 fine
Charged with failure to register as a lobbyist was Quinn Sr. The charge carries a penalty of up to a year in prison and a maximum $2,500 fine
Charged were common law misconduct in office were Edge and Harrison. The charge carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison and an unspecified fine.
Charged with perjury was Edge. The charge carries a penalty of up to five years in prison and an unspecified fine.