Politics & Government

Quinn’s State House ‘tentacles’ included paying lawmakers $1.3 million, judge told

How Richard Quinn Sr. allegedly used lawmakers to woo CEO for personal profit

Special Prosecutor David Pascoe read in court, an itinerary of a big business CEO visit to Columbia
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Special Prosecutor David Pascoe read in court, an itinerary of a big business CEO visit to Columbia

Richard Quinn Sr., South Carolina’s legendary Republican political consulting godfather, secretly paid state lawmakers to push legislation for his clients, exercising “a wide sphere of unlawful influence” for years, a judge was told Tuesday.

“The defendant has had tentacles throughout state government, and he has used those tentacles to corrupt the system,” special prosecutor David Pascoe said, adding Quinn’s main goal “was to make money.”

Quinn “used legislators, groomed legislators and inspired legislators and others to violate multiple provisions of the state ethics act so they could all make money,” Pascoe told Circuit Court Judge Jocelyn Newman. “We believe he spearheaded a lot of this conspiracy and really got a lot of these people into this mess.”

Over the years, Quinn or his firm — Richard Quinn & Associates — secretly funneled some $1.3 million to three powerful S.C. lawmakers, who then took actions in the Legislature that benefited Quinn’s business clients, Pascoe said.

Quinn, who is charged with criminal conspiracy and illegal lobbying, was paid “millions of dollars” by his clients, who were helped by lawmakers doing Quinn’s bidding, Pascoe said.

Those clients included the embattled SCANA utility, Palmetto Health, the S.C. Ports Authority, the S.C. Trial Lawyers, payday lenders, the gambling industry, ATT, BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina “and many, many others – all under the radar,” Pascoe said.

The lawmakers — all of whom were in the courtroom Tuesday to ask for bond until they and Quinn stand trial on criminal conspiracy charges — are: state Sen. John Courson, R-Richland; and ex-state Reps. Tracy Edge, R-Horry, and Jim Harrison, R-Richland. The fifth defendant in the courtroom Tuesday was state Rep. Rick Quinn Jr., R-Lexington, like his father also charged with criminal conspiracy.

While maintaining his innocence, Quinn throws punches after being released on bond in a corruption probe involving Quinn's father and several SC lawmakers

As an example of the elder Quinn’s reach, Pascoe described Quinn’s efforts in January 2013 to land a big corporate client, who the prosecutor did not identify.

Quinn picked up the unnamed company’s chief executive at the airport and took him to a private State House meeting with Courson, then president pro tem — or leader — of the state Senate. Afterward, they had lunch with Attorney General Alan Wilson — like Courson, a Quinn political client — and met with Quinn Jr. Later, the CEO had supper with Quinn Jr. and six other lawmakers. At the meeting, Wilson told the CEO that Quinn has “tentacles” throughout state government, Pascoe said.

A Wilson spokesman said late Tuesday the Republican attorney general doesn’t dispute the meeting happening, but he doesn’t remember it. “That was five years ago, and he meets with people all the time.”

Richard Quinn’s lawyer, Debbie Barbier, said, “We vehemently deny and dispute all the facts that have been put forth today.”

The hearing was a triumph for Pascoe, who for more than three years has fought off multiple attempts by defense attorneys, as well as Wilson, to stop his investigation. Pascoe beat back every attack, winning a case in the S.C. Supreme Court that allowed him to continue.

For the first time Tuesday, Pascoe laid out details of a much-rumored behind-the-scenes payoff scheme to buy influence at the State House.

Pascoe also gave details of the criminal conspiracy charge against Quinn Jr.

For years, Quinn denied working for his father’s Richard Quinn & Associates firm. But the prosecution has documents showing Quinn Jr. made his living from that consulting firm, Pascoe said, describing the legislator as a secret but active member of the firm, working on legislation for it while a House member. For example, Quinn Jr. sponsored legislation that benefited his father’s clients, including the University of South Carolina, Pascoe said.

Prosecutors also have emails showing both Quinns once asked another lawmaker “to take a dive on legislation that benefited one of the Quinn firm’s clients,” Pascoe said, adding, “That’s just a fraction of the evidence we have.”

Quinn’s lawyer Matthew Richardson denied the allegations, telling Newman that Quinn Jr. doesn’t work for his father’s firm and looks forward to his day in court.

Other defendants appearing in court Tuesday were:

▪ Courson, who Pascoe said helped the Quinn firm for years while getting secret “kickbacks” of $159,000 from 2006 to 2012.

Pascoe described Courson as an ethics expert and, as former Senate leader and chairman of the Senate Education Committee, “one of the most powerful senators in the state Senate.”

But Courson was willing to do Quinn’s bidding for his firm’s clients, including “voting a certain way that Richard Quinn told him to vote” on an issue affecting the Columbia-based Palmetto Health hospital system, Pascoe said.

In another instance, Courson agreed, at the request of RQ&A, to write the state Higher Education Commission, asking it to delay a vote on a crucial issue involving a new law school in Charleston, which competed with USC’s law school. The Quinn firm drafted the letter, had Courson sign it and the vote was delayed, Pascoe said.

“This is but one of many examples where we believe Mr. Courson assisted clients of Richard Quinn & Associates,” Pascoe said.

Courson’s lawyer, Rose Mary Parham, disputed the allegations. “My client never received any kickbacks. ... There’s no evidence of any conspiracy with anyone, much less with Richard Quinn.”

▪ Harrison, who secretly was paid more than $900,000 by the Quinn firm from 2000 to 2012, when he left the S.C. House, Pascoe told Newman.

For much of that time, Harrison was chairman of the powerful S.C. House Judiciary Committee, through which about 40 percent of all House legislation passed.

Harrison never disclosed the secret payments and never excused himself from a vote because of a conflict of interest, Pascoe said. Instead, he did work for Quinn’s clients.

▪ Edge, R-Horry, who secretly was paid between $290,000 and $300,000 by RQ&A from 2004 to 2014, special prosecutor Pascoe told Judge Newman.

During part of that time, some of Richard Quinn’s biggest clients were in the health-care industry, including BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina and Palmetto Health, and Edge was chairman of a key House subcommittee overseeing health-care legislation. During that time, Edge began to get $3,200 a month from Quinn, Pascoe said. “The payments to Mr. Edge did not end until he lost his primary race in June 2014.”

Edge also faces a perjury charge for allegedly lying to the state grand jury.

Pascoe said Edge told the state grand jury that he was unaware that Richard Quinn, who has denied being a lobbyist, was working to pass legislation. But investigators have discovered emails that contradict that claim, Pascoe said.

Edge is represented by Columbia attorneys Joe McCulloch and Alex Imgrund. “We obviously don’t endorse all the facts as recited by Solicitor Pascoe,” McCulloch said.

Newman set a $10,000 personal recognizance bond for all of the defendants except Quinn Sr. His bond was set at $15,000.