COLUMBIA — The former chairman of South Carolina State University’s Board of Trustees and a business partner have been charged with enriching themselves at the university’s expense.
Both former Chairman Jonathan Pinson and Greenville businessman Eric Robinson entered pleas of not guilty during a federal court hearing Thursday.
Prosecutors said Pinson used his position to obtain monetary kickbacks from business transactions conducted by the university, including a concert held during the 2011 homecoming celebrations. Pinson conspired with Robinson to illegally secure the contract for the concert for Robinson’s company, WE Entertainment, prosecutors claim.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph R. McCrorey accepted prosecutors’ recommendation of a $25,000 bond for Pinson and $15,000 for Robinson.
Flanked by their attorneys, both men were wearing white dress shirts and dark suit pants while McCrorey informed them of several conditions for their bonds, including an order to stay in South Carolina.
“Have your attorneys been over the charges with you and any sentencing, potential for sentencing?” McCrorey asked.
The pair said nothing other than to answer the judge’s questions with a simple “yes” or “no.”
Thursday’s hearing was to formally present the men with their rights and to determine a bond.
McCrorey noted there was no scheduling order in place, which could set a date for any trial or plea.
Outside of the courtroom after the hearing, Jim Graham, Pinson’s attorney, said his client intends to fight what he called a “flawed investigation.” Graham said his client has “never taken a dime” illegally.
“The charges brought against him are false,” he said.
Robinson’s attorney, Shawn Kent, could not be reached for comment after the hearing.
Former S.C. State Police Chief Michael Bartley will be sentenced later after pleading guilty in Charleston earlier in the day to working to facilitate a land sale in Orangeburg County between S.C. State and a Florida businessman.
Bartley was to receive $30,000 and “at least one other item of value,” according to an indictment, for his part in what prosecutors say was a $3 million land sale. Called “Sportsman’s Retreat,” the Wild Hearts Lane property is described as having eight buildings, including a log cabin, on 121 acres in eastern Orangeburg County.
Pinson is accused of using his influence as chair to “arrange the purchase of Sportsman’s Retreat by SCSU and the 1890 Foundation” at an inflated rate.
In exchange, Pinson was to receive a Porsche Cayenne and Bartley the $30,000, according to the indictment.
The U.S. District Attorney’s Office obtained a bench warrant from McCrorey for the arrest of Pinson and Robinson on Dec. 19.
The indictments against Pinson and Robinson, described by prosecutors as “close friends,” were sealed until Bartley’s Charleston hearing was under way.
Pinson stepped down as chair in late December, citing family reasons.
Prosecutors say in the indictment the conspiracies by Pinson and Robinson began in “at least 2009 and continuing up to and including late 2011.”
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