Students at South Carolina State University were pressured into using a promoter for a homecoming concert, financed with student fees, who had ties to the chairman of the school’s board of trustees, according to student leaders.
The 2011 event moved to center stage this month when the former chairman of the Board of Trustees and his business associate were charged with participating in a kickback scheme in connection with the concert.
Some student leaders said university officials pressured student organizers to choose a promoter who had ties to Jonathan Pinson, who at the time was the school’s board chairman. The concert, an annual event paid for with student activity fees, didn’t make a profit that year, so it drained much-needed funds for students.
Not guilty pleas
Pinson, 42, of Simpsonville, and his friend and business associate Eric Robinson, 42, of Greer, were indicted on charges that they attempted to affect interstate commerce by extortion and participated in an alleged kickback scheme in connection with the concert.
According to the federal indictment, Pinson was to receive a kickback for steering a contract to manage the concert to W.E. Entertainment, a company in which Robinson is a partner. The indictment doesn’t state what kind of kickback Pinson was to receive.
Pinson also was indicted on charges that he attempted to use his influence at the university to broker a land deal in exchange for a $110,000 Porsche Cayenne.
Pinson and Robinson pleaded not guilty to all counts of the indictment.
Former university Police Chief Michael Bartley, 48, pleaded guilty to conspiracy for his role in the land deal, for which the Orangeburg resident would have received an ATV and about $30,000 in cash.
Federal officials said more indictments are expected.
Kenneth McClary, an S.C. State student in 2010 and 2011, said it was common knowledge among student leaders and those involved in campus politics that certain board members and administrators pressured students organizing the annual concert to hire W.E. Entertainment as its promoter.
Organizers refused in 2010 but capitulated to officials’ demands in 2011.
McClary, who now works as a clerk for the state of Connecticut’s Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee, led an informal student group in 2011 that circulated a petition calling for improvements and accountability at the university.
Donovan McDaniel, the university’s student activities president, told WIS-TV in Columbia that in 2011, “We took the orders we received” and hired W.E. Entertainment. Student organizers did that after being told that profit from ticket sales would be used to improve student housing, McDaniel said.
W.E. Entertainment’s contract included a $280,000 budget for the concert, according to documents The Post and Courier received from the university in response to a request under the state’s Freedom of Information Act. In exchange for managing the event, the company would get $25,000 and 40 percent of ticket and merchandise sales.
Interim university President Cynthia Warrick, through spokeswoman Ashley Elliott, said she could not answer financial questions about the concert because it was part of an ongoing criminal investigation. And the documents released to the paper don’t make clear how much W.E. Entertainment actually received.
Board Chairman Walter Tobin said the concert lost money, but he couldn’t provide specific details about concert finances.
The board months ago simply was told that finances for the concert “weren’t kosher, weren’t right,” and that it involved an inappropriate use of student activity fees, Tobin said.
The documents also include contracts for five performers totaling $190,000 — $80,000 for Charlie Wilson, $70,000 for Young Jeezy, $20,000 Chrisette Michele, $10,000 for Ace Hood and $10,000 for Future.
Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491.