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S.C. Statehouse corruption probe prosecutor says judge erred in Rick Quinn sentence

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Pascoe and Quinns.jpg (copy)

Special prosecutor David Pascoe walks past former Rep. Rick Quinn and his father, political consultant Richard Quinn, at the Beaufort County Courthouse on Feb. 12, 2018. File/Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

COLUMBIA — The special prosecutor in the South Carolina Statehouse corruption case said Friday he would not have agreed to a guilty plea if he knew the judge would not weigh other allegations in sentencing former state Rep. Rick Quinn on a misdemeanor government misconduct charge.

First Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe went further in a court filing with rare direct criticism of a judge.

He wrote that Judge Carmen Mullen backed the stance of Quinn's lawyers over legal precedent and conduct during the guilty plea and sentencing hearings "fly in the face" of state and constitutional law. He added that his "faith in the Court's impartiality has been undermined." 

Pascoe asked Mullen to reconsider the sentence of two years probation and 500 hours of community service she handed Quinn on Monday. The sentence was surprising since the prosecutor said during a December hearing "there’s been no one more corrupt than Rick Quinn." The Lexington Republican, who resigned ahead of his guilty plea, avoided up to a year in prison for failing to report on economic disclosure documents that he co-signed a loan on a building rented by the University of South Carolina.

He also asked Mullen to consider kicking out the guilty pleas for both Quinn and his father's political and marketing consulting firm, Richard Quinn & Associates, which agreed to pay $5,500 to settle an illegal lobbying charge. The prosecutor dropped several more severe charges, including criminal conspiracy, against the Quinns to reach the plea deal. Richard Quinn, a longtime political kingmaker, was cleared of all wrongdoing but must testify before the state grand jury. 

Pascoe's tussle with Mullen is yet another chapter of controversy in the corruption probe. The prosecutor successfullfought off attempts to remove him from the case by the Quinns and S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson, whose office assigned the investigation to him citing conflicts of interest. Richard Quinn ran Wilson's campaigns.

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In his court filing, Pascoe said Mullen showed little interest early in listening to any additional allegations against Quinns, saying "go light on the facts so the plea won't blow up" in her chambers before a December hearing in Columbia. Still, Pascoe gave a lengthy presentation detailing accusations resulting from a grand jury investigation that alleged Quinn used his political office to aid his family's businesses.

Rick Quinn owns a mailing and printing firm, while his father's consulting firm represented several of South Carolina's largest companies and state agencies. The Quinns have denied those accusations, and their attorneys opposed Pascoe's slideshow shown in court, saying he was not presenting relevant evidence. 

During Monday's sentencing hearing in Beaufort, Mullen told Pascoe that considering any additional accusations in sentencing would violate Rick Quinn's constitutional rights and that the prosecutor should have taken the case to trial if he wanted all of the charges considered against the former House majority leader.

In a terse exchange that has surprised many legal observers, Mullen refused to hear Pascoe's objections after announcing her sentence Monday and told him to sit down.

Pascoe said in his filing that he was dismayed Mullen would blame him for a lighter sentence and that Quinn had waived his constitutional rights of "presumed innocent until proven guilty" by accepting the plea, which is a conviction. Pascoe went on to slam Mullen, saying in the court document that her "sentencing the manner in which the guilty plea was conducted constitute an abuse of discretion based on error of law." 

Rick Quinn is the third S.C. lawmaker to resign in wake of the five-year-old Statehouse corruption probe. Three other current and former state legislators await trial, including suspended state Sen. John Courson, R-Columbia, who heads to court on March 19 on charges of pocketing $133,000 in campaign cash and criminal conspiracy. 

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