‘I didn’t need Richard Quinn’s money,’ Jim Harrison said from the witness stand
Richard Quinn Sr., a legendary S.C. Republican consultant, was indicted Thursday by a state grand jury on 11 charges of perjury and one charge of obstruction of justice.
The new charges against Quinn, 74, stem from special prosecutor David Pascoe’s three-year investigation into State House corruption, which has led to the conviction and removal from office of four powerful GOP state lawmakers, including Quinn’s son.
Quinn himself was indicted in October 2017 and accused of masterminding a secretive influence network that connected his public relations clients — special interests and corporations lobbying the S.C. State House — with his political clients: powerful state lawmakers who allegedly worked to push or defeat legislation on behalf of those interests. So wide and deep was his political empire that critics — and admirers — dubbed his network “the Quinndom.”
But in a surprising move, Pascoe dropped the charges when Quinn agreed to testify fully and truthfully to the state grand jury.
The Thursday indictment of Quinn alleges he failed to do that, lying to the grand jury about his involvement with former state Sen. John Courson, R-Richland; former House Majority Leader Jimmy Merrill, R-Berkeley; former House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Harrison, R-Richland; current S.C. Attorney Alan Wilson, R-Lexington; and Quinn’s son, former Rep. Rick Quinn Jr., R-Lexington.
“Quinn intentionally gave incomplete and evasive testimony throughout to pervert, obstruct, impede, and hinder the ongoing investigation by the State Grand Jury,” the indictment alleged.
Quinn’s lawyer, Deborah Barbier, indicated later Thursday her client would fight the charges. In 2017, Barbier said, Pascoe dismissed the same allegations against Quinn he is bringing now. “The current indictment is simply a rehash of previous allegations that the state dismissed ... a different shade of lipstick on the same pig.”
The 33-page indictment is what prosecutors call a “talking indictment” — full of specific allegations detailed in narrative form. Most indictments are generally-worded except when referring to which laws were allegedly broken.
Among other charges, the indictment alleges Quinn:
▪ Lied about why he helped Attorney General Wilson draft a letter to Pascoe attempting to stop Pascoe from further investigating the State House corruption allegations. Wilson had previously recused himself from that investigation, citing conflicts of interest. According to the indictment, Quinn testified Wilson had no press secretary to write the letter. But Pascoe and the grand jury say Wilson’s office had both a government relations director and a press secretary, and that Quinn helped draft the letter to protect his son, Quinn Jr., from Pascoe’s investigation.
▪ Falsely testified that checks from his public relations firm to Courson were reimbursements for campaign expenses. The indictment alleges those payments were part of a kickback scheme in which Courson sent Quinn’s firm, Richard Quinn & Associates, campaign money and was reimbursed similar amounts that he pocketed for personal use.
▪ Falsely testified that his son, Quinn Jr., recused himself from House debate and votes that affected numerous clients of Quinn Sr.’s firm. In reality, Quinn voted numerous times on such legislation, according to the indictment.
▪ Lied about former Rep. Harrison’s involvement with RQA. Quinn testified Harrison worked on political campaigns and did some legal work for the firm, but the indictment alleges Harrison did “very little, if any” political work. Harrison instead was paid for his secret work in the Legislature on behalf of RQA’s corporate clients, Pascoe has alleged.
Quinn is well known in South Carolina political circles as as longtime political adviser and GOP kingmaker. He has closely advised Gov. Henry McMaster, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, Attorney General Alan Wilson and a number of high-ranking S.C. legislators since he started his firm in 1976.
But Quinn found himself in the center of Pascoe’s crosshairs once the prosecutor, along with the State Law Enforcement Division, launched the State House corruption investigation in March 2016.
That probe has led to the convictions of four legislators: Harrison, Courson, Merrill and Rick Quinn. Charges are pending against a fifth, former state Rep. Tracy Edge.
At times, Pascoe’s probe produced a steady drip of indictments and guilty pleas, but the pace slowed last year, and the investigation was commonly thought to have wrapped up. Quinn’s indictment bucks that perception, at least for now.
“I thought Pascoe was done with the Quinns,” said John Crangle, a longtime ethics advocate who has followed the probe. “Some people thought, and I was one of them, that Richard Quinn had gotten off without any kind of prosecution or penalty at all, and he was a central figure in all this wrongdoing. This is a way for Pascoe to go after Quinn.”
But the indictment also reinforces a criticism that the investigation has dragged on too long, sustaining the cloud of public doubt that has hung above the State House.
Lawmakers have done themselves little to help themselves on that front, failing to pass any ethics reform proposals that were filed over the past two years to address issues raised by Pascoe’s investigation.
All targets — except for Edge — in Pascoe’s investigation were convicted.
One, former Rep. Jim Harrison, R-Richland, who took some $900,000 in secret payments over the years from Quinn’s firm, insisted on a trial. After a weeklong trial last October, a Richland County jury found Harrison guilty of two counts of misconduct and one count of perjury. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison, a sentence that is still on appeal.
This story is developing. It will be updated.