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Thursday, December 7, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Thursday, December 7, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Ex-S.C. State Bigwig Faces Kickback Charges

COLUMBIA, S.C. (CN) - The former chairman of the board of South Carolina State University was indicted on charges of abusing his position by taking kickbacks, including a $100,000 Porsche Cayenne.

Federal prosecutors unsealed a 3-count indictment against Jonathon N. Pinson and a business associate, Eric Robinson.

The men tried to "affect interstate commerce" by extorting people in connection with a Homecoming concert in 2011, prosecutors said.

Pinson also is accused of accepting a Porsche Cayenne for helping to arrange a property sale to the university.

Both men appeared in court in Columbia and pleaded innocent.

Pinson was released on $25,000 bail, Robinson on $15,000 bail.

Prosecutors said the case is based on the men's alleged attempts to get unspecified favors for using Robinson's entertainment firm to promote the homecoming concert.

In the Porsche deal, Pinson and "Person A" are accused of conspiring to use their positions at the school to influence university officials to buy a recreational property known as Sportsman's Retreat, which was owned by Person A, according the indictment.

Robinson is accused of conspiring with Pinson "to solicit a 'kickback' from Person A, which was to be paid to a public official in Georgia, and agreed to demand an inflated amount from Person A, with the excess payment to be split between defendants Pinson and Robinson," the indictment states.

It adds: "Defendants Pinson and Robinson used cellular telephones and other instrumentalities of and in interstate commerce, and made trips to other states (including Georgia and Florida, with defendant Pinson traveling on at least one occasion to Florida in a private jet supplied by Person A) to further the purposes of the conspiracy."

A "Person B" is accused of conspiring with Pinson to have SCSU buy Sportsman's Retreat, for which Person B would get $30,000 in cash.

Person B is a former SCSU Police Chief, according to the indictment. South Carolina newspapers have identified him as Michael Bartley.

Bartley pleaded guilty to participating in a kickback scheme, and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors, in an appearance before a federal judge, The State newspaper of Columbia reported.

South Carolina State University has been under scrutiny for several years due to its handling of the school's James E. Clyburn Transportation Center, named for the congressman who represents the area and is assistant Democratic leader in Congress.

After construction delays led to the project's losing its federal designation, an audit of one grant tied to it found financial records in such disarray that accountants couldn't determine where much of the money went.

And when construction began, it was on land the university did not own, according to the Orangeburg Times and Democrat.

State auditors concluded that no money had been stolen, but found that the university had no viable plan to raise the final $80 million to bring the center to fruition.

It was during this period, federal authorities said, that they received the tip from an informant that led to its investigation of Pinson.

The FBI placed a wiretap on Pinson's phone in July 2011 and for several months monitored his conversations with Bartley and a Florida businessman who hoped to sell a tract of land to the university, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Moore said in a statement.

U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles said in the statement that other indictments and charges are expected in the continuing investigation.

If convicted, Pinson and Robinson each faces up to 20 years in prison and $250,000 fines.

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