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Final sentences issued in SC Statehouse ethics scandal cases

Prosecutor David Pascoe addresses Sen. John Courson (copy)

David Pascoe (center), special prosecutor in an eight-year Statehouse corruption investigation, addresses former Sen. John Courson, his wife and his lawyer on June 4, 2018, in a Columbia courtroom. Courson was sentenced on April 27, 2023, along with former state Rep. Tracy Edge, bringing the final proceedings in the sweeping ethics probe to an end. File/Staff

COLUMBIA — A South Carolina judge sentenced two former state lawmakers on April 27, bringing an end to proceedings in an eight-year Statehouse corruption probe that ensnared six politicians and a leading political operative.

Circuit Court Judge Carmen Mullen sentenced former state Sen. John Courson, R-Richland, to a year of probation with 100 hours of community service.

In her sentencing of former state Rep. Tracy Edge, Mullen gave the Myrtle Beach Republican a choice: six months in prison or a fine of $500. Edge accepted the fine and plans to pay it in the morning, according to his attorney, Joe McCulloch.

Both former lawmakers saw reduced sentences for cooperating with prosecutors running the sweeping ethics investigation that began in 2014.

The probe was led by 1st Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe, named special prosecutor in what started as an investigation of one of the state's most powerful politicians, then-House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston. Harrell would resign in October 2014 and pleaded guilty to six counts of misusing his campaign account for personal benefit.

In the process, Pascoe uncovered more possible corruption in the General Assembly and proceeded, against the wishes of Attorney General Alan Wilson, with a grand jury investigation to target others, including Courson; Edge; former House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Harrison; former Rep. Rick Quinn, R-Lexington; as well as Quinn's father, Richard Quinn, one of South Carolina’s top political kingmakers. Barry Barnette, the 7th Circuit Solicitor, took over the proceedings around 2018. 

Courson's and Edge's court appearances, at the Beaufort County Courthouse, follow the sentencing of Richard Quinn last week.

While the 74-year-old former S.C. GOP consultant initially dodged criminal charges in the corruption probe, he would later plead guilty to 11 counts of perjury and obstruction of justice charges accusing Quinn of lying during two appearances before the State Grand Jury in cases against former state lawmakers. Quinn entered an Alford plea, in which he did not admit guilt but agreed a jury would likely convict him. Mullen sentenced him to 18 months home detention.

Courson, 78, pleaded guilty in 2018 to one count of willful misconduct in office but was not sentenced until now as prosecutors sought to close out the proceedings against Richard Quinn. 

Edge, 56, made a deal to plead guilty to perjury after he failed to report a portion of his campaign finances to the State Ethics Commission. McCulloch called the plea agreement "reasonable" and said his client was glad the proceedings, which were a source of anxiety and health issues for Edge, have come to an end.

Pascoe called the probe "a very long odyssey" and said Barnette "was the right man for the job" to bring the proceedings to a close.

Rick Quinn, the son of Richard Quinn, pleaded guilty to misconduct in office and resigned in 2017. He served 500 hours of community service and two years of probation.

Previous corruption charges against Quinn's father, including illegal lobbying and conspiracy, were dropped in as part of his plea negotiation with Rick Quinn. At the time, Richard Quinn’s political consulting firm, Richard Quinn & Associates, agreed to pay fines and restitution totaling $5,500 for illegal lobbying.

Richard Quinn also would agree to provided the grand jury testimony, which would ultimately result in the perjury charge indictment against him in 2019.

Harrison, the other former lawmaker caught up in the probe, was sentenced to 18 months in prison on perjury and misconduct in office charges in 2021. He was paroled after serving roughly five months.

Harrison ultimately was the only person to receive a prison sentence in the yearslong investigation.

"What I hope is that this has brought about cultural change in Columbia and we never see anything like what (these lawmakers) did again," Pascoe said.

The Post and Courier was unable to reach Rose Mary Parham, Courson's attorney, for comment.

Reach Jessica Holdman at Follow her @jmholdman on Twitter.

Jessica Holdman is a business reporter for The Post & Courier covering Columbia. Prior to moving to South Carolina, she reported on business in North Dakota for The Bismarck Tribune and has previously written for The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Wash.

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