Crime & Courts

Rep. Rick Quinn pleads guilty in State House corruption probe

Rick Quinn pleads guilty to misconduct in office

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State Rep. Rick Quinn, R-Lexington, resigned from the S.C. House and entered a guilty plea to one count of misconduct in office Wednesday.

State Circuit Judge Carmen Mullen said she would defer sentencing the 52-year-old former legislator.

Saying Quinn had committed worse crimes than any other lawmaker caught up in an ongoing State House public corruption probe, special prosecutor David Pascoe asked Mullen to give Quinn the maximum sentence – one year in prison.

“There’s nobody in Columbia like Rick Quinn,” Pascoe told Mullen.

Pascoe displayed a Power Point presentation showing Quinn had covered up his involvement with his father’s consulting firm, Richard Quinn & Associates – an involvement that helped the firm make millions – and illegally voted for and worked on legislation for his father’s clients.

Rick Quinn pleads guilty to misconduct in office during a hearing in Richland County Courthouse

Rick Quinn’s statements over the years insisting he had no involvement with his father’s firm were “an absolute fabrication ... a lie,” Pascoe told the judge.

In 2012, for instance, Rick Quinn threatened to "leave the family business" if he didn't get "consistent checks" from First Impressions, the legal name of Richard Quinn & Associates.

"What I do for the family,” the younger Quinn emailed his father, "I need to know that I will have consistent checks."

Tying Quinns to Attorney General Wilson

Quinn’s guilty plea is part of a deal in which charges against his father, powerful political consultant Richard Quinn, were dropped. However, Richard Quinn’s First Impressions company will pay a $3,000 fine for failing to register as a lobbyist.

The elder Quinn also agreed to testify in January before the State Grand Jury, Pascoe told Mullen.

Pascoe did not indicate what Richard Quinn will testify about. But he also presented evidence that the Quinns had helped S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson, R-Lexington, attempt to derail the State House corruption investigation as it threatened the Quinns.

“The Quinns had a close relationship with the S.C. attorney general while the corruption probe was ongoing," Pascoe told the judge.

Wilson’s office did not immediately respond to that allegation.

Defense lawyers: Case is ‘lame’

Speaking after Pascoe, Rick Quinn’s two attorneys mounted a vigorous defense of the former S.C. House majority leader.

Pascoe’s case is “lame” and has “glaring weaknesses and holes,” said attorney Johnny Gasser. Quinn has ethics opinions saying that what he did is legal and also has experts who can show that he committed no violations, the attorney said. Pascoe “would have you believe Rick Quinn is this horrible human being,” Gasser said.

Rick Quinn pleads guilty to misconduct in office during a hearing in Richland County Courthouse

Attorney Matthew Richardson described Quinn as a entrepreneur, a civic leader, a public servant, a good friend to many and a family man who, due to his wife’s ailments, is largely the caretaker for their two school-age children, who, the lawyer said, have been bullied mercilessly at school because of press accounts about their father.

“Rick has never taken any money for his personal benefit,” said Richardson, who asked the judge to give the former state representative three months on probation.

‘Proved he was lying’

Prosecutors alleged Richard Quinn & Associates, the political consulting firm operated by Quinn’s father, was paid millions of dollars by some of South Carolina’s most prominent companies and institutions to illegally push bills in the S.C. General Assembly. Rep. Quinn was secretly and illegally paid some of that money to use his position as a lawmaker to advocate for the proposals, Pascoe told the court.

Had the case gone to trial, “We would have disclosed that defendant First Impressions (a Quinn company) used Rick Quinn to make money," Pascoe said.

Said Pascoe: "For over a decade, he (Rick Quinn) said he did not work for his father, but that one (2012) email proved he was lying."

Pascoe also said:

▪ Numerous big companies, including the embattled SCANA utility, paid more than $4 million to Richard Quinn & Associates that wasn't reported on required ethics filings.

▪ USC paid RQ&A $514,000 over a five-year period. In return, Rick Quinn sponsored amendments that USC proposed, Pascoe said.

▪ AT&T paid RQ&A more than $400,000. When one lawmaker, former House Majority Leader Jim Merrill, R-Berkeley, blocked legislation that AT&T wanted, Richard Quinn told Merrill that a Quinn client wanted the legislation passed. Later, ATT chief Pam Lackey told others that Merrill agreed to the bill, Pascoe said.

▪ As House majority leader from 1999 to 2004, Quinn steered $270,000 in House GOP caucus money to his own company.

“When you use your position as majority leader to send money (to yourself), that's a violation" of the law, Pascoe told Circuit Court Judge Mullen.

However, Pascoe noted that the S.C. attorney general doesn't think the practice violates the law. "But,” Pascoe added, “I do."

Fall of the ‘Quinndom?’

The guilty pleas bring a dramatic end to a powerful S.C. political empire — the so-called “Quinndom” — that was decades in the making, an empire whose work to influence S.C. laws was carried out largely in secret.

In the past, the firm contended it only managed political campaigns and devised political strategies for its corporate clients.

However, prosecutors alleged it did more, illegally lobbying the Legislature — without registering as a lobbyist — and then paying off some legislators to ensure the legislation it wanted passed was passed.

For years, the Quinn consulting firm — operated by Richard Quinn — has occupied one of the most prestigious, influential insider positions in S.C. Republican politics, earning millions to advise some of the state’s most prominent politicians.

Those politicians include Gov. Henry McMaster, R-Richland; state Attorney General Wilson, R-Lexington; and U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-Lexington, and the father of the attorney general; U.S. Sen, Lindsey Graham, R-Seneca; state Secretary of Education Molly Spearman, R-Saluda; state Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, also head of the powerful Senate Finance Committee; and Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Luke Rankin, R-Horry.

The firm’s business clients have included some of the state’s largest public and private institutions – the University of South Carolina, Cayce-based SCANA, ATT, the Palmetto Health hospital system, BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina, the State Ports Authority and others.

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