Promises of cash, vehicles focus of SC State probe - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Promises of cash, vehicles focus of SC State probe

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Former SC State Board of Trustees chairman Jonathan Pinson Former SC State Board of Trustees chairman Jonathan Pinson
Former SC State Chief of Police Michael Bartley prepares to enter federal court Thursday morning. (Source: Jody Barr) Former SC State Chief of Police Michael Bartley prepares to enter federal court Thursday morning. (Source: Jody Barr)
ORANGEBURG, SC (WIS) -

Former South Carolina State Board of Trustees chairman Jonathan Pinson and former Chief of Police Michael Bartley have been indicted on federal financial kickback charges.

According to prosecutors, from 2009 through late 2011, Pinson solicited various "kickbacks" in return for agreements to use his official position to benefit people who agreed to provide items of value and money to him.

In an 8-page federal indictment unsealed this morning, federal prosecutors say Pinson and his "close personal friend" Eric Robinson violated the Hobbs Act, which prohibits actual or attempted robbery or extortion affecting interstate or foreign commerce. The statute is frequently used in connection with cases involving public corruption, commercial disputes, and corruption directed at members of labor unions.

Prosecutors say Pinson and Robinson worked together to illegally secure a contract for WE Entertainment, a concert promotions business Robinson was involved with, to manage SC State's 2011 Homecoming concert. In return, Robinson and WE Entertainment agreed to provide Pinson with a kickback, according to prosecutors. The indictment did not state what the alleged kickback was.

The concert was paid for by SCSU through fees charged to students. In addition, the university received more than $10,000 in federal funds during the time periods relevant to the indictment.

Pinson is also accused of extorting a $100,000 Porsche Cayenne from a Florida businessman in return for using his influence to arrange the university's purchase of a property in Orangeburg County called the "Sportsman's Retreat."

Robinson and Pinson used cellular telephones and made trips to Florida and Georgia for the purposes of the conspiracy, according to the indictment. Pinson, according to prosecutors, also took at least one trip to Florida in a private jet. Prosecutor said he wantedSC State to pay $3 million for the tract.

The FBI says wire taps between July and November, 2011 helped to catch Pinson devising the land scheme.

SC State's former Chief of Police Michael Bartley pleaded guilty Thursday in Charleston to conspiracy.

Bartley has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in Pinson's case.

Prosecutors said he confessed to receiving a payment of $30,000 and an ATV in return for his promotion of the university's purchase of the "Sportsman's retreat." Bartley, according to prosecutors, was a friend of the Florida businessman.

Bartley was one of eight university employees fired in February of 2012 during what was characterized as an internal investigation. At the time, the university did not discuss who was fired or for what reasons.

He is free on $10k bond and will be sentenced on an undetermined date. Bartley faces 5 years in prison and a $250k fine if convicted.

Pinson was released on $25,000 bond Thursday afternoon after pleading not guilty in Columbia. Robinson was released on $15,000 bond.

Pinson joined the SC State's Board of Trustees in 2005. He was elected chairman in 2009, but relinquished his chairmanship on February, 2012 to devote more time to his family and his business. He continued serving as a trustee until December, 2012.

"South Carolina State University and its students are the victims of the crime charged in this Information, not the target," said United States Attorney Bill Nettles." This investigation does not target South Carolina State University.  Rather, this Information focuses on an individual who used his position and relationships in an effort to line his pockets at the University's expense."

Nettles said other charges are expected in connection with this ongoing investigation.

"All individuals who were involved in any illegal activities that were investigated are no longer here on this campus," said university Interim President Dr. Cynthia Warrick.

Warrick and Board of Trustees Chairman Dr. Walter Tobin said improvements are underway to better manage the money and more supervision.

"There is much more to do, and we will get it right," said Tobin. "As Chair of the Board, I will support an initiative that will include the designation of a Chief Audit, Compliance and Ethics officer at SC State."

Tobin said these oversight measures should help instill some confidence with donors but they need to work on its message to students. Right now, enrollment is down and Tobin said that's in part because they're selling dysfunction to students.

"People try to come to State and they come and they see all this bad stuff on the news and they say, I'm not coming to that school," said junior Karl Johnson.  "It's bad publicity, let me go to another school, let me not fill out an application."

"They really need to come together and get on a mutual standpoint on what they want to do with the university," said senior Monique Wheeler. "Whether it be employees or students because as students we deserve answers."

Wheeler said the latest allegations of former employees exchanging perks for their positions of power is another mark on the school's reputation.

"Especially with us being a historically black college it really looks bad as far as representing us, ourselves as African-American students, and the other universities in South Carolina," she said.

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