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SC Grand Jury Report Released

Detailed recap of investigation published …

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As we predicted, South Carolina first circuit solicitor David Pascoe has released a grand jury report from the #ProbeGate investigation into public corruption in state government.

The special prosecutor posted the document to his official website on Tuesday afternoon shortly after S.C. circuit court judge Clifton Newman – the presiding judge in matters related to the grand jury – issued a consent order authorizing its release.

Exclusively unearthed by this news outlet more than four years ago, this investigation revolved around the political empire of Richard Quinn – one of the most influential corporate and political strategists in Palmetto State history.  It led to the indictment and resignation from office of four influential elected officials – former majority leader Rick Quinn (Richard Quinn’s son), former House speaker Bobby Harrell, former Senate president John Courson and former House majority leader Jimmy Merrill.

Two other ex-lawmakers – suspended S.C. code commissioner Jim Harrison and former state representative Tracy Edge – still have charges pending against them in connection with the investigation, with Harrison scheduled to stand trial later this month.

Pascoe has hinted other charges may be forthcoming in the future.

“The report details the grand jury’s findings that the lobbyist’s principals who retained Richard Quinn and Associates are culpable for their role in the pay-for-influence schemes described in the report,” a news release from Pascoe’s office noted.  “As a result of these findings, the corporate entity of RQ&A pleaded guilty and the first circuit solicitor’s office reached corporate integrity agreements with the following lobbyist principal’s who retained RQ&A: AT&T, Palmetto Health, SCANA Corp., South Carolina Association for Justice and (the) University of South Carolina.”

According to Pascoe, the agreements “carry substantial terms, resulting in mandatory compliance procedures and fines far greater than the penalties imposed by the (state’s ethics act).”

(Click to view)

(Via: FITSNews.com)

How much money are we talking about?

Palmetto Health agreed to a $100,000 fine, which will be applied to the first circuit solicitor’s office as “reimbursement for the cost of the investigation.”  The balance will be sent to the S.C. State Ethics Commission (SCSEC).  The South Carolina Association for Justice (SCAJ) agreed to a $30,000 fine under the same terms.  AT&T agreed to a $60,000 fine under the same terms, while the University of South Carolina (USC) agreed to a $90,000 fine under the same terms.

Finally, SCANA agreed to pay $72,000 under the same terms – bringing the total amount of assessments to $352,000.

In exchange for these payments and other considerations, the state agreed to release the companies from civil, criminal or administrative claims related to the grand jury’s work.

In their report, grand jurors concluded that Quinn’s firm unlawfully sold “influence and access” to wealthy special interests.

“Corporate entities retained Richard Quinn for the purpose of gaining access to and influence over public officials, and by failing to report Quinn’s services, influenced the outcome of legislative matters with no accountability or disclosure to the public,” they wrote.

They further concluded that “independent expenditures and ‘dark money’ have a significant influence on the outcome of elections because the General Assembly has failed to address statutory provisions that were deemed unconstitutional many years ago.”  They also argued “existing laws regulating the ethics of public officials, candidates for office, and lobbying activities are weak,” and called on state lawmakers to “strengthen the weapons available to prosecutors.”

Will that ever happen?  Doubtful …

Grand jurors specifically objected to lawmakers’ longstanding self-policing arrangements, arguing “state ethics laws should be strengthened to contain provisions which require suspension and removal from office without the supervision of the General Assembly.”

We concur with that recommendation wholeheartedly.  In fact, we have been pushing for precisely such independent oversight for the better part of the last decade.

The report also raised the specter of obstruction on the part of S.C. attorney general Alan Wilson, who prior to the escalation of the #ProbeGate investigation was a longtime ally of Quinn’s firm, known in Palmetto political circles as “The Quinndom.”

(Click to view)

(Via: S.C. Attorney General)

“The grand jury has concerns regarding the Attorney General’s relationship to the subjects of this investigation,” the report noted. “The grand jury concludes that Attorney General Wilson’s loyalty should lie with the citizens of South Carolina, who he represents, rather than with the Quinn family, and that his actions impeded this investigation.”

Specifically, the report accused Wilson of being responsible for a “thirteen-month delay” in the investigation stemming from his “inaction” and impeding.  According to grand jurors, this delay “placed tangible impediments to prosecution for impermissible lobbying activities occurring prior to March, 2012.”

“The statute of limitations ran on a number of potential criminal charges against individuals and entities, including the statute of limitations for federal money laundering and financial structuring to avoid the mandatory bank reporting requirements for cash transactions that exceed $10,000,” the grand jurors noted.

What motivated Wilson to “impede” the investigation?

“The grand jury is unable to determine based upon the evidence presented whether (Wilson) was motivated in part by a desire to protect Richard Quinn, Rick Quinn and others,” the report concluded.  “However, the grand jury is very troubled by Wilson’s involvement of Richard Quinn with drafting correspondence to limit Solicitor Pascoe’s authority and his continued reliance upon (Richard) Quinn’s advice throughout the investigation.  This conduct demonstrates poor judgement at best.”

Wilson blasted the findings of the report.

“The Pascoe report is riddled with already-disproven political innuendo and baseless conjecture,” he said in a statement issued from his campaign.  “The fact is I spoke to the grand jury voluntarily because I have nothing to hide and all I want to see is justice be served.  This is an entirely political smear less than a month from an election and it should be dismissed as just that.”

Wilson’s campaign added that the attorney general was “never issued a subpoena, never charged, and never a target of an investigation.”

Wilson had a lot more to say on the matter to reporter Meg Kinnard of the Associated Press …

Here is the report …

Fullscreen Mode

Of interest?  The document delved extensively into the role of political consultants in South Carolina, fearing influence-peddling networks similar to the one created by Quinn “could easily be repeated.”

“Without any oversight or disclosure, a political consultant is free to engage with corporations and special interests groups to advise them regarding conversations his conversations with his political clients,” the grand jury report concluded.  “Further, the political consultant is free to communicate political advice to his political clients that may align with the interests of those corporate clients who pay a monthly retainer.”

The concern?  That those enforcing the state’s ethics laws are unable to distinguish “between an individual’s activities as a political consultant versus a corporate consultant,” and “cannot prove the intent behind a wink and a nod.”

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