COLUMBIA — Former state lawmaker Jim Harrison was funneled money from some of South Carolina's most powerful corporations and lobbying interests during his time in office, according to newly released financial records.
The evidence, which was released in court Wednesday, seemingly ties Harrison's work at one of the state's most influential consulting firms directly to powerful corporations like SCANA Corp. and AT&T.
Harrison, the former chairman of the powerful House Judiciary Committee, is facing up to 21 years in prison on charges of conspiracy, misconduct in office and lying to a state grand jury.
The evidence may sink the defense team's argument that Harrison only worked for the embattled consulting firm, Richard Quinn & Associates, as a political campaign adviser. The records are the most recent evidence to emerge in a five-year corruption probe, which has led to four guilty pleas by former South Carolina lawmakers. Harrison's case is the first to go to trial in the investigation.
The documents that prosecutors unveiled during the third day of Harrison's public corruption trial highlighted the retainer fees that political candidates and corporations paid to Richard Quinn & Associates.
The accounting records suggested the firm's employees and contractors got a cut of those payments.
Trey Walker, a former employee of the firm and currently Gov. Henry McMaster's chief of staff, got paid for campaign work for U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and other political candidates.
Jim Merrill, a former House majority leader who also pleaded guilty to misconduct in office, got a cut of the money for his work on a campaign for former state Attorney General Charlie Condon.
But Harrison's work was listed differently. The documents suggest he wasn't paid to advise candidates or orchestrate campaigns.
According to the records, he received a $2,000 cut from the monthly retainer paid by SCANA, one of the state's largest electric and gas utilities. The same was true for BellSouth, a former subsidiary of telecommunications giant AT&T.
And he received a $2,350 per month payment from Unisys, an information technology company that currently has consulting contracts with state government.
Unisys also had a multimillion contract in the late 1990s to create an online system to enforce child support payments in the state. It failed to complete that work and later reached a settlement and was forced to pay money back to the state government.
Reggie Lloyd, Harrison's attorney, downplayed the evidence.
"We've been dancing around this all week. The state has strongly insinuated that Mr. Harrison got paid $80,000 (a month) to influence legislation," Lloyd said, adding that there was no evidence anyone asked the former lawmaker to vote a certain way.
SCANA and AT&T previously reached settlement agreements with prosecutors that allowed the companies to avoid admitting any wrongdoing as part of the corruption probe. But there's no evidence Unisys reached a similar deal.
Multiple witnesses in the case verified that Harrison never worked with any of the political campaigns as he claimed. But Charles McFadden, a former vice president for SCANA, testified that he met with Harrison during meetings the utility organized with Richard Quinn & Associates.
The evidence in the case also showed Harrison never reported his income from Richard Quinn & Associates outside of one mention in 2000. That meant the State Ethics Commission — and in turn the public — were never officially notified about Harrison's employment with the firm or provided with a list of its corporate clients that had lobbyists in the Statehouse.
Harrison received more than $900,000 from Quinn's firm for more the a decade, prosecutors said.
Payroll charts revealed the only people getting more money than Harrison at the firm were Richard Quinn and his son, former lawmaker Rick Quinn, who pleaded guilty to misconduct in office late last year. The consulting business also pleaded guilty to illegal lobbying as part of a plea deal.
The prosecutors don't expect to call Richard Quinn, the patriarch of the consulting firm, to the stand during the ongoing trial because of his health issues and his inability to recall the business operations of his firm.
"Testing his memory about things in the past was very difficult," Jim Griffin, an assistant prosecutor, told Judge Carmen Mullen.
But that doesn't mean that the jury didn't get to hear from Richard Quinn, who avoided charges due to his son's plea agreement. The prosecutors unveiled a letter to Harrison from Richard Quinn, who was a stalwart in South Carolina's political system for decades.
The document suggested Harrison's payments from the consulting firm were reduced around 2010 after several corporate clients stopped paying their retainer fees in the wake of the economic recession.
In the letter, Quinn called Harrison "a member of the family" and a "valued member of our team." But he informed Harrison, who held office for more than two decades, that the firm couldn't afford to pay him as much any more.
"We are in a financial pickle right now and have to cut costs," Quinn wrote. "We just need to get our heads together and think about how we can get more business for the firm."
The financial success of the firm hasn't improved since. It's effectively been put out of business as a result of the multi-year corruption probe.
A jury is expected to get the case Friday.