Former S.C. State attorney pleads guilty to failing to report kickback scheme

Edwin Givens (right) enters Federal Court in Charleston Tuesday morning with his attorney Bart Daniel.

The former attorney and chief of staff for South Carolina State University never alerted authorities about a kickback scheme involving the school's homecoming celebration, according to federal prosecutors.

Edwin Givens, 50, pleaded guilty to misprision of a felony during a plea hearing Tuesday morning in downtown Charleston in connection to having knowledge of a kickback and concealing the information from federal authorities.

Givens faces a maximum sentence of three years in prison and a $250,000 fine, but prosecutors recommended a six-month probation sentence.

U.S. District Judge David Norton will ultimately decide how long Givens will serve. A sentencing hearing has not been scheduled.

The conviction also could lead to a suspension of Givens' licence to practice law. The South Carolina Supreme Court decides whether the conviction is deemed a serious crime, which would lead to an interim suspension.

As part of a plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney's Office, Givens has to cooperate in the ongoing investigation of corruption at S.C. State.

Givens was allowed to remain free on a $10,000 personal recognizance bail.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Nancy Wicker told the judge that investigators discovered the kickback scheme when a wire tap was placed on former S.C. State board Chairman Jonathan Pinson, who is also charged.

During a conversation, Pinson and Givens discussed a kickback scheme involving the school's homecoming celebration, Wicker said. Givens agreed to help steer the entertainment contract for the school's homecoming dance to a company operated by Pinson's close friend and business partner, Eric Robinson, who has also been charged, Wicker said.

Givens and Pinson were each supposed to receive $2,000 and 50 percent of the profit, split by the two of them, made by the entertainment company, according to Wicker.

Givens, however, only received $500 in 2011 and he donated the money to S.C. State University Foundation, Wicker said. At the time of the donation, Givens was unaware law enforcement knew about his involvement, she said.

Givens later denied knowing about any kickback scheme to investigators and lied to Federal Bureau of Investigation agents during an interview, Wicker said.

Givens said little in court and declined to comment following the hearing.

In a written statement provided to the press, Givens said that this has been a long ordeal and that he regrets being part of phone conversations involving improper activities.

"But it is important to stress that I never profited in any way for these illegal activities," Givens said. "Not one single dime."

In the statement, Givens said that during an earlier investigation of a former board member, he was accused of cooperating with authorities and the interim president at the time threatened to fire him.

"While it is no excuse for not reporting illegal activity, I allowed this and other threats of retaliation cloud my judgment," he said.

Givens referred to the board as dysfunctional and said its mismanagement led to the illegal activity.

"Anyone who tried to stop it was either ignored or isolated and threatened," Givens said.

Givens was one of eight high-level employees fired in February 2012 in connection with an internal investigation.

According to documents previously released by the university, Givens and the other seven terminated employees were let go for "conduct unbecoming of a state employee that substantially affects your fitness to perform assigned duties and that reflects unfavorable on the university, and your substantial failure to follow university rules, policies and procedures."

So far, six people have pleaded guilty in connection with the corruption investigation at the historically black college. Charges remain pending for two others - Pinson and Robinson.

Pinson and Robinson also were charged in the homecoming kickback scheme. At the same time Pinson was charged in that scheme, he and others were charged in another kickback scheme in which they tried to get the school to purchase land from a Florida developer in exchange for a luxury sports car, according to authorities.

Pinson and Robinson are expected to go to trial scheduled for next month in Columbia, according to court records

It's unclear if Givens will be testifying in that trial.

Reach Natalie Caula Hauff at 937-5594 or