COLUMBIA — South Carolina GOP powerbroker Richard Quinn paid legislators at least $1.3 million to do his bidding for business clients that paid millions for his influence, the prosecutor investigating Statehouse corruption said Tuesday.
Solicitor David Pascoe said Quinn's "sphere of unlawful influence" extends to the state's top prosecutor, Attorney General Alan Wilson, who — along with several legislators — met and dined with an unnamed CEO in January 2013 who Quinn was trying to woo as a client.
"The defendant has had tentacles throughout state government, and he’s used those tentacles to corrupt the system," Pascoe said during a bond hearing in the Richland County Courthouse.
Wilson, who does not recall the CEO's visit, has not been charged in the Statehouse probe that has ensnared a half-dozen current and former GOP lawmakers along with Richard Quinn, who built a political consulting dynasty over four decades that worked with presidential candidates, top state legislators, large state agencies and major corporations.
Quinn "used legislators, groomed legislators and conspired with legislators and others to violate multiple provisions of the ethics act so they could all make money," Pascoe said. "Mr. Quinn was a very effective, but illegal, lobbyist in our state because of the unprecedented amount of access he had over government officials."
After the hearing, Quinn's son, state Rep. Rick Quinn of Lexington, continued to deny the allegations against him, his father and the other lawmakers. He again accused Pascoe, a Democrat, of going after his family for political retribution after twice pursuing a bid for attorney general. Richard Quinn was Wilson's campaign consultant, while Rick Quinn produced his campaign mailers. Other lawmakers are getting wrapped into this political "duel," Rick Quinn said.
"I think it's remarkable not a single Democrat" has been investigated, said the former House majority leader from 1999 to 2004.
Pascoe, whom Wilson assigned to the probe in 2014 citing unspecified conflicts of interest, has dismissed allegations of a political agenda.
The elder Quinn, along with former state Reps. Jim Harrison of Columbia and Tracy Edge of North Myrtle Beach, were newly indicted last week. The state grand jury returned additional charges against Rick Quinn and state Sen. John Courson of Columbia, who remain suspended following their indictments earlier this year on misconduct charges.
All five were allowed Tuesday to remain free on personal recognizance bonds after being charged with conspiracy, a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. All but Richard Quinn also face misconduct in office charges. Edge received an additional charge of perjury, while the elder Quinn is charged with failure to register as a lobbyist. Those charges carry between one and 10 years in prison.
Pascoe laid out allegations Tuesday of how Richard Quinn used lawmakers who worked for him or hired his consulting firm to influence decisions at the Statehouse on behalf of his clients.
The solicitor said the wooing of the CEO alone illustrates Quinn's money-making scheme. The CEO's itinerary included lunch with Wilson, meetings with Rick Quinn and Courson — then the Senate president pro tem, the chamber's top position — and a private dinner with seven legislators, both Republicans and Democrats.
In his business proposal to the CEO the next day, Quinn wrote he "may as well go ahead and be honest" that he arranged the schedule to purposefully showcase his influence.
Harrison, an attorney, was chairman of the powerful House Judiciary Committee during the 2006-to-2012 time frame covered in his indictments. Without specifying any legislation, Pascoe noted Quinn's clients at the time included the state Trial Lawyers Association, now named the South Carolina Association for Justice. After his indictment, Harrison was suspended from his Statehouse research job and from The Citadel Board of Visitors.
Edge, who lost his re-election bid in 2014, was chairman of the Ways and Means subcommittee that writes the health care section of the state budget. Quinn's clients included the state's largest health insurer, BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina, and largest hospital system, Palmetto Health. It is unclear whether those companies are still Quinn clients.
Pascoe said Quinn paid Edge nearly $300,000 between 2004 and 2014, while Harrison received $900,000 between 2000 and 2012, while they held the leadership roles. The two never reported the income on campaign disclosure firms, though they knew Richard Quinn's clients employed lobbyists in the Statehouse.
The solicitor said Edge lied when he told investigators in March he didn't know that, pointing to a November 2011 email from Edge to Quinn in which he complained about his monthly pay being cut from $3,200 to $2,000. "'Is that a mistake?'" the email read, according to Pascoe. "'I thought getting the (University of South Carolina) deal was good. By the way, I’m back on the health budget committee, which is good for us.'"
Pascoe said Courson, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, acted on behalf of Quinn's client, InfiLaw System, in 2014 by asking the Commission on Higher Education to delay a vote on whether the for-profit company could buy the Charleston School of Law, because InfiLaw knew it would lose the vote.
"Lo and behold, they delayed their vote," Pascoe said. The company's bid ultimately failed.
Pascoe said Courson received nearly $160,000 in "kickbacks" from Quinn between 2006 and 2012 — money he received in cash after paying Quinn with campaign donations. Courson's attorney denied the 33-year veteran of the Senate ever received kickbacks.
The Quinns have long maintained that they kept their firms separate, but Pascoe alleges Rick Quinn worked for and benefited from his father's clients. Rick Quinn said after the hearing that he sought legal opinions over the years to guide his conduct, and they "told me everything I was doing was fine. I represented my constituents honorably."
The investigation has crumbled Richard Quinn's consulting and marketing empire arguably at the height of his success. Clients severing ties in the past few months include Gov. Henry McMaster; U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, the attorney general's father; SCANA; AT&T; and the University of South Carolina.
The Statehouse probe began with the 2014 prosecution of then-House Speaker Bobby Harrell, a Charleston Republican who pleaded guilty to six misdemeanor campaign spending violations and resigned.
The investigation was put on hold as Attorney General Wilson tried unsuccessfully to fire Pascoe. Wilson argued Pascoe’s authority was limited to Harrell’s prosecution, but the state Supreme Court disagreed last year. The attorney general is among those no longer working with Quinn.
The indictment in December of former House Majority Leader Jim Merrill, R-Charleston, who has since pleaded guilty to misdemeanor misconduct, ended speculation the investigation had fizzled. Like Harrell, he agreed to cooperate with additional prosecutions.
Jamie Lovegrove contributed to this story.