A Richland County jury late Friday night found ex-SC Rep. Jim Harrison, R-Richland, guilty of multiple public corruption-related counts.
Within minutes, state Circuit Judge Carmen Mullen sentenced Harrison, 67, to 18 months in prison. Harrison is the first state lawmaker to get a prison sentence as a result of an ongoing state grand jury investigation run by special prosecutor David Pascoe. Three other lawmakers have pleaded guilty and gotten probation.
Asked by the judge if he had anything to say, Harrison - known as one of most cheerful and sociable of state lawmakers - declined comment.
The jury of five men and seven women found Harrison not guilty on a charge of conspiracy. But it returned guilty verdicts on two counts of misconduct and one count of perjury, which included two instances of perjury.
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The misconduct charges centered around Harrison’s secret and illegal acceptance of some $900,000 over 13 years from the Richard Quinn & Associates consulting firm. Another element of the misconduct charges is that it is illegal for a lawmaker to use his public position to earn money for his private gain.
Prosecutors charged that Harrison had, basically, sold his influence as a prominent lawmaker and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee to secretly help the Quinn firm’s corporate clients get their bills passed in the Legislature. Quinn’s payments to Harrison stopped at the end of 2012, when Harrison retired from the General Assembly.
The verdict came down at 10:30 pm after the jury deliberated more than four hours. Harrison had taken the stand Friday morning and, under questioning by his attorney, Reggie Lloyd, told the jury he is “an honest, honorable man.” In the end, the jury didn’t buy that.
The trial was one of South Carolina’s major public trials in years. It exposed how state lawmakers can easily hide sources of revenue.
During closing arguments Friday, special prosecutor Pascoe told the jury that South Carolina’s last major legislative public corruption case - the FBI’s Lost Trust scandal in the 1990s that resulted in more than a dozen state lawmakers pleading guilty to accepting bribes - was a “joke” compared to Harrison’s case.
Harrison had illegally sold his influence for $900,000 over 13 years, while Lost Trust lawmakers sold their votes for just several hundred dollars, Pascoe told the jury.
Pascoe had a family obligation so he was not in the courtroom Friday night when the verdict came down.
But he told The State in a later phone interview that the jury’s verdict lets people know that corruption in the Legislature will not be tolerated.
“This verdict, and Judge Mullen’s verdict, sends a strong message,” Pascoe said.
Already, Pascoe said, he had gotten calls from lawmakers who want to explore introducing new ethics legislation in next year’s General Assembly session.
The case was a personal triumph for Pascoe. During the last three years, State Attorney General Alan Wilson had tried to derail his investigation and publicly questioned Pascoe’s competence. Wilson also asserted that Pascoe, whom Wilson had appointed as a special prosecutor, has unlawfully usurped Wilson’s authority.
But the State Supreme Court told Wilson that Pascoe had the right to conduct a broad investigation if it was related to the two lawmakers that Wilson had originally allowed Pascoe to investigate.
Pascoe also had fought off numerous other attempts by defense lawyers to scuttle his state grand jury investigation into three other prominent state lawmakers - Rep. Rick Quinn, R-Lexington; Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Berkeley; and State Sen. John Courson, R-Richland. All have pleaded guilty to misconduct and resigned their offices. All received probation.
A common thread that linked Harrison with the three other legislators was that they all got money from Richard Quinn & Associates, a firm run by Richard Quinn, 73, a longtime political consultant known as a kingmaker in South Carolina politics.
For decades, Quinn has run the campaigns of numerous prominent public officials, including Gov. Henry McMaster, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.; U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-Lexington and State Attorney General Alan Wilson.
Quinn’s political empire, which included political operatives and officials, was so well known it was dubbed “the Quinndom” and “Team Quinn.” During this week’s trial, Pascoe referred repeatedly to “the Quinndom,” and stressed how Harrison was part of the money-and influence-fueled network. And Harrison, on the witness stand, admitted he was a member of “the Quinndom.”
What people didn’t know about “the Quinndom” is that Quinn’s firm had, in addition to its political clients, a bevy of prominent corporate clients that paid Quinn tens of thousands of dollars every month to help them out when they had bills or interests in the Legislature, according to prosecution testimony.
Quinn’s clients included the University of South Carolina, AT&T, Palmetto Health hospitals, SCANA electric utility, Unisys technology and the S.C. trial lawyers’ association.
Last December, threatened with numerous criminal charges by Pascoe, Richard Quinn allowed his firm, Richard Quinn & Associates, to plead guilty to illegal lobbying in the state Legislature. Pascoe then dropped the charges and gave Quinn immunity from further prosecution if he testified before the state grand jury.
During this week’s trial, Pascoe introduced 15 witnesses and numerous exhibits to hammer home these points:
▪ Quinn’s firm Richard Quinn & Associates, which had employed Harrison for 13 years at approximately $80,000 per year, had pleaded guilty last year to illegal lobbying. One basic charge against Harrison was that it was illegal for him to work for a firm that lobbied the S.C. General Assembly for corporate interests without disclosing his relationship and compensation from the firm.
▪ Harrison kept his job with the Quinn firm secret. Harrison’s former colleagues in the House, including Reps. Mike Pitts, R-Laurens, and Todd Rutherford, R-Richland, testified for the prosecution, saying they were shocked to learn that Harrison was paid about $80,000 a year by Quinn while he was in the Legislature. Harrison “flat-out lied” about what he did for the Quinn firm, Pascoe told the jury. “He couldn’t let people know he worked for Richard Quinn or the whole house of cards would have fallen.”
▪ Quinn stopped paying Harrison at the end of 2012, when Harrison left the Legislature. Pascoe argued Harrison was no more use to Quinn’s corporate clients when he retired.
▪ Harrison never explained to the jury what he did to earn his $80,000 a year salary from Quinn. And so the jury was left to wonder how Harrison - who testified he was already busy with his triple jobs of being a lawyer, being in the Army Reserve and working in the Legislature - found the time to be worth some $80,000 a year doing work for Quinn. Harrison told the jury he worked on Quinn’s campaigns and was a “sounding board” for Quinn. But top officials in numerous S.C. campaigns Quinn ran testified they had no knowledge Harrison did any political work.
Pascoe told the jury that Harrison helped Quinn to “make millions” from corporate clients because whenever Harrison took positions on bills, he was so respected that other lawmakers were influenced by him.
▪ Over and over, Pascoe stressed how other lawmakers - including Merrill and Courson - also took money covertly from the Quinn firm and had been convicted of misconduct. Pascoe stressed how the Quinn firm had pleaded guilty to illegal lobbying. If those lawmakers were guilty, Pascoe argued, so was Harrison.
▪ Although defense attorneys tried to poke a hole in Pascoe’s case by telling the jury that Pascoe had failed to call Richard Quinn as a witness to back up the prosecution charge that Harrison and Quinn conspired with each other, Pascoe poked right back, telling the jury that the defense too, could have called Quinn as a witness. In the end, however, the one charge the jury acquitted Harrison on was the conspiracy charge.
▪ Defense lawyers had belittled Pascoe’s case, saying someone as honest as Harrison would never sell his vote, especially when he had a good career and “so much to lose.” But Pascoe said Harrison’s motivation was “greed” - by working for Quinn, Harrison pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars.
▪ Prosecutors didn’t “go after” Harrison. “This case was an accident,”” Pascoe told the jury. When the grand jury was investigating other lawmakers’ ties to the Quinn firm, it stumbled over records showing the Quinn firm had paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars to Merrill, Courson and Harrison.
Late Friday night, Pascoe said he wanted to thank State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel for allowing a small team of investigators, headed by Maj. Richard Gregory, to help gather evidence on the case, over the past three years.
SLED’s active involvement was not considered a sure thing. Keel’s boss is Gov. McMaster, who for years used Richard Quinn as his top political consultant in successful campaigns for governor and attorney general. But McMaster, who has severed ties to Quinn, gave Keel free rein to investigate the case.