A former trustee at South Carolina State University has been indicted in a federal kickback scheme, according to documents released by the U.S. Attorney’s Office Thursday. The indictment show that the board’s former chairman Jonathan Pinson faces two felony counts of interference with commerce by threat of violence. Prosecutors say that Pinson, a Greenville businessman, used his position to solicit favors and money.
Prosecutors also say Pinson conspired with Greenville businessman Eric Robinson to get kickbacks in exchange for using Robinson’s entertainment company to promote a 2011 homecoming concert at S.C. State. Robinson was also arraigned on similar charges at a Columbia courthouse Thursday.
Pinson is also accused of extorting a $100,000 Porsche Cayenne from an unnamed 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.”
The indictment states that Robinson and Pinson used cell phones and made trips to Florida and Georgia for the purposes of the conspiracy. Pinson, according to prosecutors, also took at least one trip to Florida in a private jet.
Pinson’s attorney Jim Griffin said his client has “never ever taken a dime” to make any decision at South Carolina State. “These charges that are brought against him are false. He is innocent. It is the fault of a flawed investigation and we look forward to exposing those flaws at the appropriate time in court.”
Pinson was released on a $25,000 surety bond. Robinson on a $15,000 bond.
SC State’s former Chief of Police Michael Bartley also pleaded guilty Thursday to conspiracy. Bartley has reportedly agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in Pinson’s case. He faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, but will likely receive less prison time because of his cooperation.
Prosecutors said the former police chief 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.” According to prosecutors, Bartley was a friend of the Florida businessman. The sale never occurred after federal investigators moved to stop it.
“South Carolina State University and its students are the victims of the crime charged in this Information, not the target,” U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles said in a statement, “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.”
According to his trustee biography, Pinson serves as president of Professional Staffing Solutions. He resigned from the board in late December without listing a reason.