Hammer falls at S.C. State; more indictments are expected to follow
ORANGEBURG — Two former South Carolina State University officials and a business associate were indicted in an alleged kickback scheme Thursday in federal courtrooms in Charleston and Columbia.
WorK: Robinson is an Upstate businessman.
It marks the first moves in a long-awaited public corruption case involving the school. More people are expected to be ensnared in the investigation, authorities said.
Work: Bartley is S.C. State’s former chief of police.
Leaders at the state’s only public historically black university called the news sobering and said plans already were in the works to make sure similar crimes won’t happen there in the future.
Work: Pinson is an Upstate businessman and a former chairman and member of S.C. State University’s Board of Trustees.
Former S.C. State board Chairman Jonathon N. Pinson and his business associate, Eric Robinson, both 42, were arraigned on an indictment that charged them with attempting to affect interstate commerce by extortion and participating in an alleged “kickback” scheme in connection with the 2011 S.C. State Homecoming concert.
The indictment also stated Pinson allegedly participated in a scheme where he would receive a Porsche Cayenne in exchange for his assistance in arranging the purchase of an Orangeburg property by the university.
The maximum penalty Pinson and Robinson could receive is 20 years imprisonment, a $250,000 fine, and a special assessment of $100 on each count in which they are charged.
According to Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Moore, indictments and charges involved Pinson and former Chief of Police Michael Bartley conspiring to use their positions at the school to push university officials into purchasing Sportsman’s Retreat, a recreational location owned by a Florida businessman with ties to the two men.
In return, the businessman allegedly agreed to give Pinson the Porsche worth more than $100,000, Moore said. Bartley’s share of the deal was to be an all-terrain vehicle and a cash payment of about $30,000, he said.
The events Thursday marked the first public progress in the case since March, when Reggie Lloyd, a lawyer hired by the university and former chief of the State Law Enforcement Division, said S.C. State was involved in a criminal investigation.
University and law enforcement officials until Thursday had not released any specific information since Lloyd’s announcement.
More to come
Thursday was anything but a normal day for university professionals. It began in a Charleston federal courtroom, where Bartley, 48, pleaded guilty to participating in the kickback scheme. Bartley waived his right to a grand jury indictment, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and agreed to fully cooperate with prosecutors.
In the afternoon, U.S. marshals led Pinson and Robinson, both in shackles, into a Columbia courtroom.
They pleaded not guilty to all parts of a three-count federal indictment in connection with the alleged scheme and were released. Pinson’s bail was $25,000; Robinson’s was $15,000.
Pinson and his lawyer, Jim Griffin, walked out of the courthouse together. With Pinson standing next to him, Griffin said, “Jonathan Pinson has devoted time, energy and money to make S.C. State a better place. He’s never taken a dime. The charges are false. He is innocent. They are the fault of a flawed investigation.”
Robinson is represented by attorney Shaun Kent.
U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles stated in a news release that other indictments and charges are expected in connection with the ongoing investigation, but he did not indicate who might be indicted.
The case was investigated by several different agencies, he said, including the FBI, SLED, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, HUD’s Office of Inspector General, and the Internal Revenue Service. The cases are being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Mark C. Moore, Nancy C. Wicker, Jane B. Taylor and DeWayne Pearson.
The university has been in a state of turmoil much of the time since a June 2010 Post and Courier report on problems at its troubled James E. Clyburn University Transportation Center brought outside scrutiny to the school.
The report, which found the university was unable to account for much of the more than $50 million in federal and state money that flowed to the center, prompted a group of state legislators to call for an investigation from its watchdog, the Legislative Audit Council.
The council’s report found gross mismanagement at the core of many the center’s problems.
Since then, former President George Cooper fired eight top employees, including Bartley, before announcing that he would step down. And four members of the school’s board have resigned in the past year.
The school also faced a shortfall of nearly $6 million this year, and enrollment has declined from 4,933 in the fall of 2007 to 4,326 in the fall of 2011, according the most recent data available from the state’s Commission on Higher Education.
Nettles said the university and the students “are the victims of the crime charged in this information, not the target,” he said after Bartley’s plea.
Walter Tobin, current chairman of S.C. State’s board, said the school already has begun to put in place several new procedures to ensure, as much as possible, that similar crimes don’t happen again. Those efforts include hiring a compliance and ethics officer and requiring approval of the full board of trustees for any expenditure over $250,000.
“From now on the university will be a place of high integrity, accountability and transparency,” he said.
Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491, Glenn Smith at 937-5556 and Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.