Florida developer Zahn named in S.C. State case; set for plea hearing Friday
Florida developer Richard Zahn is scheduled to enter a plea in federal court Friday in connection with an alleged scheme to sell property he owns to South Carolina State University in exchange for kickbacks to school officials.
Federal prosecutors this week formally named Zahn in court papers tying him to the corruption case. They mentioned Zahn’s alleged involvement during a hearing last month, but he had been referred to in court documents only as “Person A.”
Paperwork filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court lists a pending charge of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government against Zahn. The 44-year-old developer is scheduled for an 11 a.m. plea hearing in Charleston.
The paperwork is listed as “information,” similar to how the case of former S.C. State Police Chief Michael Bartley was handled before he pleaded guilty to a conspiracy count in the alleged scheme.
Zahn is accused of conspiring on the land deal with Bartley and the university’s former board chairman, Jonathan Pinson. The two officials allegedly pitched the sale to other school officials in return for bribes, according to court documents.
Zahn’s attorney, Andy Savage, has described his client as a cooperating party who had been assisting the government since the case began. Savage declined to comment Wednesday on the pending hearing or the paperwork.
Prosecutors have said Zahn was looking to unload a 121-acre spread known as Sportsman’s Retreat that he owns along Wild Hearts Road in the Orangeburg County town of Cameron. It has been on the market for $3.2 million, and the site was pitched to school officials as a possible site for a conference center and a university retreat, authorities said.
In return for his help, Pinson was to get a $110,000 Porsche Cayenne, while Bartley stood to receive a new all-terrain vehicle and $30,000 in cash, authorities said.
Pinson has pleaded not guilty to all counts of the indictment.
Federal law enforcement officials have said more indictments were expected in the public corruption case involving South Carolina State University. Beth Drake, spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles, said she couldn’t answer questions on whether or when more people would be indicted, because she can’t discuss pending investigations.
Walter Tobin, chairman of S.C. State’s Board of Trustees, said he has no new information on the case. He also said he knew nothing about Zahn or the Sportsman’s Retreat. “I didn’t even know what it was until the indictments were issued,” Tobin said.
Zahn is a serious player in the Florida construction industry. His Longwood, Fla.-based ZMG Construction has been involved in a host of multimillion-dollar projects from Texas to Pennsylvania, including a $1 billion redevelopment in Orlando called Creative Village and a $458 million urban renewal effort in Tampa.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Moore has described Zahn as a friend of Bartley. Zahn served as a reserve officer at the Orangeburg County Sheriff’s Office in 2006, when Bartley worked there as a deputy, state records show. Bartley was one of Zahn’s training instructors at the Sheriff’s Office, the records state.
Zahn and Pinson also had a relationship, Moore has said. He said the two men were involved in unspecified business ventures in Columbia and Atlanta that also included Greer businessman Eric Robinson, who has been indicted with Pinson in another alleged kickback scheme.
Robinson pleaded not guilty to all counts of the indictment.Diane Knich contributed to this report. Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556 or Twitter.com/glennsmith5.