A Florida developer will avoid prison for his role in a corruption and bribery scandal at South Carolina State University, after a federal judge agreed his cooperation and lack of criminal record made three years probation an appropriate sentence.
Richard Zahn had pleaded guilty two years ago to wire fraud and attempted bribery for his role in promising kickbacks to two SC State officials in exchange for the school buying land that Zahn owned. Even though his plea came in 2013, prosecutors had waited until after criminal cases were resolved against former SC State Board of Trustees chairman Jonathan Pinson and others.
The State newspaper reported Monday District Judge David Norton accepted arguments from Zahn’s attorneys, who argued the developer had cooperated with investigators and even testified during Pinson’s trial last year. In addition to the probation, the developer must also fund a $25,000 scholarship for a student at South Carolina’s only public historically-black college.
Pinson, who denies intentionally violating the law, was eventually convicted on 29 counts and sentenced to five years in prison for agreeing to accept Zahn’s bribe while at SC State, as well as misusing government grant funds in a Columbia housing project and a Marion County diaper factory. He remains out on bond while his sentence is appealed.
Federal prosecutors say 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 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.
Bartley was sentenced in July to three years probation and 100 hours of community service. Another school trustee Lancelot Wright and his two business partners were also sentenced to three years probation, plus three months in a “halfway house,” for their role in the housing project. SC State’s former general counsel Edwin Givens was given six months probation for not reporting the kickbacks when he became aware of them. Pinson’s former business partner Eric Robinson was acquitted by a jury for his role in the incident.