A federal judge has sentenced the former chairman of the South Carolina State University board of trustees to five years in prison.
District Judge David Norton on Wednesday ordered Jonathan Pinson to also repay $338,000 in restitution. The time of the sentence was not as high as the 12 years U.S. Attorneys had been seeking, but it was more than double than the two years his defense requested.
Pinson is already appealing his conviction. He has 14 additional days to appeal the sentence. He did not comment to reporters after the sentence was handed down.
A federal jury last year found the Greenville businessman guilty on 29 counts related to racketeering and corruption. The charges stemmed from business dealings that Pinson had with SC State, the Village at River’s Edge low-income housing project in Columbia, and a Marion County diaper factory.
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. Much of the evidence was gathered through a wiretap placed on Pinson’s phone.
Pinson tearfully begged Norton for leniency, asking that he not be condemned for what he called “a brief, dark period” in his life lasting for about four months.
But prosecutors said Pinson abused his position of public trust for personal benefit.
Five other co-defendants in the case are still awaiting their own sentencing in the case, pending the outcome of Pinson’s hearing. All five had pleaded guilty to their involvement. They include former SC State trustee Lancelot Wright, who pleaded guilty in November 2013 to charges of conspiring to steal and convert public funds and committing mail fraud as part of the Village at River’s Edge and the Softee Supreme diaper factory in Marion. Two other partners 57-year-old Robert “Tony” Williams of Tampa, Fla.; and 46-year-old Phillip Mims of Columbia face the same charges.
The other two defendants awaiting sentencing are former SC State police chief Michael Bartley and Florida developer Richard Zahn. Both pleaded guilty to separate charges in 2013 over Pinson’s alleged efforts to arrange kickbacks in exchange for the school buying property that Zahn owned. Bartley admitted to prosecutor’s claims that he would have received $30,000 and an all-terrain vehicle had the deal succeeded. But the FBI moved in before SC State could acquire the property.
Former SC State general counsel Ed Givens was sentenced to six months probation last September after he admitted in court that he had been aware of another kickback scheme involving the school’s homecoming concert. Givens pleaded guilty to misprision of a felony, with prosecutors saying he had received $500 as payment for helping secure a contract for a Greenville business where Pinson had connections. Prosecutors said Givens received a relatively light sentence because he donated the $500 to an SC State foundation even before realizing he was under investigation.