A State Grand Jury report argues Attorney General Alan Wilson’s used of a Statehouse corruption probe target was “poor judgment at best” and potentially interfered with the investigation.
The grand jury report into a four-year probe of illegal lobbying by legislators and a powerful Republican consultant was made public Tuesday. A state judge had cleared its release last week after the lead prosecutor said the grand jury’s work was finished.
Seven Republicans — including six former legislators — were indicted in the probe, with four ultimately pleading guilty. Jury trials are still planned against two others. Criminal conspiracy charges were ultimately dropped against the seventh individual GOP consultant Richard Quinn, although he agreed that his company First Impressions, Inc., (also known as Richard Quinn & Associates) would pay $3,000 in restitution for illegal lobbying.
The report was released by the probe’s lead prosecutor Democratic First Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe. It accuses Wilson of impeding the investigation and communicating behind the scenes with Quinn and two other legislators who were named as potential targets. The report did note that the Republican attorney general had offered “legitimate reasons” for his actions and did not accuse him of criminal acts, but it questioned his judgment for continuing to correspond with individuals under investigation.
A spokesman for the AG’s Office said it could not respond to a “purely political” report and referred questions to Wilson’s reelection campaign. The South Carolina Republican Party accused Pascoe of intentionally releasing the report just weeks before Election Day, although the delay was because several of the investigation’s targets had objected to a request by media outlets to unseal the findings.
“The fact that Pascoe made his report all about someone that was never subpoenaed and never charged with any wrongdoing should destroy any doubt that he’s trying to make this a dirty political hit job,” South Carolina Republican Party Chairman Drew McKissick wrote.
Members of the grand jury said Wilson’s delaying actions in 2014 and 2015 caused the statute of limitations to run out on several potential charges, including money laundering. Wilson had recused himself from the investigation and appointed Pascoe in early 2014 to avoid a conflict of interest, but his office did not give Pascoe authorization to move forward against other targets even after the State Law Enforcement Division finished its investigation later that year. Nine months later, Pascoe moved to convene the State Grand Jury and Wilson’s office fired Pascoe, claiming the solicitor lacked the authority to do that. Pascoe sued and the legal fight lasted another four months, until the state Supreme Court ultimately ruled in 2015 Wilson could not remove Pascoe.
The report also noted that Wilson relied on Quinn — who was not yet under investigation — to draft a press release which fired Pascoe. Other staff in the Attorney General’s Office testified they supported removing Pascoe and agreed the solicitor had exceeded his authority by convening the State Grand Jury. However Solicitor General Robert Cook told the jury he was not aware Wilson had included Quinn in drafting the letter (which was ultimately not sent).
According to the report, Quinn told the grand jury that his client Wilson communicated with him “almost every day, probably up until the time I was indicted and shortly before that.” Quinn added that Wilson saw him as a father figure and frequently used his advice.
“Wilson’s decision to retain Mr. Quinn (after learning of the investigation into Quinn) is a matter of great concern to members of the grand jury,” the report stated. “The grand jury concludes that Wilson put his loyalty to Richard Quinn above his duty and obligation to the citizens of South Carolina to respect and enforce the state’s laws.”
Wilson testified before the grand jury that he agreed in hindsight that using Quinn was “a mistake” but that he felt a sense of loyalty to a longtime advisor who was losing clients while the investigation proceeded. Wilson ultimately stopped using Quinn’s firm last year, according to his new reelection campaign manager Mark Knoop. The attorney general insisted that he never shared legal privileged materials with the Quinn or his son former House Majority Leader Rick Quinn. The report does not document any specific evidence to contradict Wilson’s claims, but does question “poor judgment at best” in continuing to use the consultant at the center of the investigation.
The younger Quinn pleaded guilty to misconduct in office last year and was sentenced to two years probation in February. The report notes Wilson had told Quinn and another convicted legislator former House Majority Leader Jim Merrill that he thought the case “would work itself” and things would be “fine.” Merrill ultimately resigned and pleaded guilty to a misconduct in office charge in 2017.
Quinn had insisted the charges against him were “political” and questioned why Pascoe — a Democrat — had only fo
The grand jury said it could not determine Wilson’s motivations, but did surmise his actions likely harmeing the probe through numerous delays that allowed the statute of limitations to run out on potential criminal charges against entities and individuals.