A jury will now decide the fate of a former South Carolina State University trustee charged with corruption.
The jury in former board of trustees chairman Jonathan Pinson’s racketeering case received instructions on Monday from District Judge David Norton before going into deliberations.
Closing statements were given Friday as Pinson’s two-week trial wrapped up. Prosecutors argued that the former chairman used his position to push for a land deal with a Florida developer so he could get a Porsche SUV from that developer as a thank-you gift. Investigators also say Pinson skimmed money from a low-income Columbia housing project his firm was building and a struggling diaper factory in Marion County.
Federal prosecutors presented hours of phone wiretaps and several other witnesses who had already pleaded guilty to their part in the scheme, including the Florida developer Richard Zahn, former SC State University general counsel Ed Givens, and ex-SC State police chief Michael Bartley.
Pinson’s attorneys say he never profited from any of the deals. Attorney Jim Griffin also suggested several of Pinson’s ex-partners exaggerated Pinson’s role to avoid prison time themselves.
A jury will also decide the fate of Greenville businessman Eric Robinson, who prosecutors accuse of collaborating with Pinson in several of the schemes.
The name of Columbia mayor Steve Benjamin also cropped up several times during this month’s trial. Benjamin was a former business partner with Pinson on the Village at River’s Edge housing project in Columbia, selling his share of the project to the other investors during his run for mayor in 2010. Zahn also testified that Benjamin had accompanied Pinson on a trip to Florida that involved a visit to a strip club. At least two witnesses have said Zahn paid two women from the club to accompany the group back to the hotel that night.
Benjamin has not been charged and was not accused of any illegal actions during the trial. He has said he will not comment until the trial ends.