COLUMBIA — A jury found former state lawmaker Jim Harrison guilty of perjury and misconduct in office, marking the fifth conviction of a legislator in the past four years and capping off the first trial to come out of the high-profile probe into corruption in the South Carolina Statehouse.
The guilty verdict was handed down late Friday night after more than five days of testimony, in which prosecutors accused Harrison of secretly profiting from an influential consulting firm that pleaded guilty to illegal lobbying earlier this year.
That firm, Richard Quinn & Associates, has been at the center of the five-year corruption investigation because of its once sprawling network of lawmakers, lobbying interests and corporate clients.
Harrison, the former chairman of the powerful House Judiciary Committee, was immediately handed a prison sentence of 18 months by Judge Carmen Mullen. He faced up to 21 years in prison.
Harrison is the first current or former South Carolina lawmaker sentenced to prison in the sweeping Statehouse investigation. Four lawmakers resigned after guilty pleas and Richard Quinn & Associates paid a fine for failing to register as a lobbyist. Another former lawmaker indicted in the probe awaits trial.
Throughout the Harrison trial, his defense attorneys portrayed him as a loving family man and respected public servant. They argued the state had no evidence that Harrison and Richard Quinn Sr., the patriarch of the troubled consulting firm, conspired together to influence bills in the South Carolina Legislature.
"That makes no sense. These guys had far too much to lose for that to make any sense,” Hunter Limbaugh, Harrison’s defense attorney, said in his closing arguments.
But special prosecutor David Pascoe successfully painted Harrison as a lawmaker who cashed in on his connections to the consulting firm and its corporate clients, while failing to disclose that business relationship to the South Carolina Ethics Commission and the public.
The defense team, Pascoe said, wanted the jury to judge the case based purely on sympathy and Harrison’s earlier reputation.
“A person’s reputation is what people do when other people can see them,” Pascoe said. “What matters is character, because a person’s character is what you do when nobody is looking.”
Over the past week, prosecutors revealed a number of documents that suggested Harrison was closely aligned with Richard Quinn & Associates for more than a decade.
They unveiled accounting records that showed Harrison received nearly $900,000 from the firm over the course of his political career. They produced a letter from Quinn that referred to Harrison as a “a member of the family” and a “valued member of our team.”
And one memo suggested Harrison’s pay was directly tied to the monthly fees the firm collected from corporate giants like SCANA Corp. and AT&T — companies with lobbyists in Columbia.
The trial came to a head Friday morning as Harrison took the stand, roughly a day after the former lawmaker was hospitalized due to a mini stroke.
The Columbia Republican was the only witness called in his defense.
Harrison admitted to being paid roughly $80,000 per year by the firm. He called Quinn his boss. He accepted that he was part of the Quinndom, a nickname for the sprawling network of lawmakers, political candidates and businesses tied to Richard Quinn & Associates. And he told the jury that Quinn asked him to help recruit some of the state’s largest corporations as clients.
But he denied ever following through on that request.
“I never, ever recruited corporate clients to his business,” Harrison said. “I didn’t need Richard Quinn’s money.”
The prosecutor’s line of questioning became increasingly combative as Pascoe grilled Harrison about allegedly lying to the State Grand Jury about his work for Quinn. Both men are graduates of The Citadel, which prompted Pascoe to question whether Harrison learned not to lie at the military college.
“It’s a shame they didn’t teach you the Honor Code,” Pascoe said.
As the trial wound down, Pascoe suggested there were “900,000 reasons” why Harrison would do whatever Quinn wanted him to — referencing the amount of money the former lawmaker received over the course of 13 years.
“Absolutely not,” Harrison snapped back, before stepping down from the witness stand and glaring at Pascoe as he walked back to his seat.
The defense attorneys tried to play on the fact that prosecutors didn’t call on Quinn to testify in the trial. The once influential consultant avoided prosecution after his son, former lawmaker Rick Quinn, pleaded guilty to misconduct in office earlier this year.
Pascoe told the jurors he had no need to call the elder Quinn as a witness. Harrison’s defense attorneys, he pointed out, could also put Quinn on the witness stand if they believed it would help prove Harrison’s innocence.
“He has no credibility whatsoever. He’s at the core of this corruption,” Pascoe said of Quinn.
In his closing argument, Pascoe depicted the jury’s decision as more than a conviction of one lawmaker. The outcome, he suggested, was a monumental ruling for transparency and ethics in the South Carolina Statehouse.
"Finally, a message is going to be sent today that this is important and it's time to do it right," he said.