A Florida developer pleaded guilty in federal court Friday morning to conspiring to sell property he owns to South Carolina State University in exchange for kickbacks to school officials.
Federal prosecutors say Richard Zahn conspired to commit wire fraud as he tried to negotiate a deal for land he owned near the town of Cameron known as the “Sportsman’s Restreat.” Proescutors say Zahn approached former board of trustees chairman Jonathan Pinson to and asked him to convince SC State officials to purchase the property. According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Pinson agreed to participate in exchange for a Porsche SUV from Zahn.
Also involved in the alleged scheme was former school police chief Michael Bartley, a friend of Zahn’s who agreed to help promote the sale in exchange for $30,000 and an all-terrain vehicle. The FBI said it learned about the specifics of the plan after tapping Pinson’s phone. They eventually revealed their investigation and stopped the deal before it could occur.
Zahn is the CEO of Florida-based ZMG Construction. The company has been involved in multimillion dollar residential projects across the South, including recently renovating an apartment complex in Columbia. Prosecutors had not formally named him until this week. In a prior indictment against Pinson, Zahn was referenced as “Person A.” However, most media outlets had already determined his identity because Zahn’s name was listed as owning the “Sportsman’s Retreat” property.
The 44-year-old Zahn pleaded guilty to an Information charging him with conspiring to commit honest service wire fraud by providing illegal bribes and kickbacks to public officials. Zahn’s attorney said his client had cooperated with investigators. Bartley also pleaded guilty to his role in the scheme last month. A judge will sentence both men at a later date.
Pinson’s attorney maintained his client’s innocence during an arraignment last month, saying Pinson has “never ever taken a dime” to make any decision at South Carolina State.
Zahn’s attorney, Andy Savage, said his client “succumbed” to a “corrupt community” at the school while making the land deal.