COLUMBIA, S.C. — Bond was set Tuesday for a Republican political consultant and several current and former state representatives with ties to him on charges related to an alleged corruption scheme in South Carolina’s Legislature.
Circuit Judge Jocelyn Newman allowed all five defendants to remain free on their own personal recognizance until their next court appearances.
Richard Quinn faces charges of criminal conspiracy and failure to register as a lobbyist. Along with his son, former House Majority Leader Rick Quinn — prosecutors say — the elder Quinn conspired to violate ethics and campaign finance laws as early as April 2011, “for the purpose of attaining a financial or economic advantage,” according to indictments.
Richard Quinn put lawmakers on his payroll, working with now-former Reps. Tracy Edge and Jim Harrison to peddle influence on certain legislation that would benefit his private industry clients, Pascoe said. Edge and Harrison, both Republicans, received regular, monthly payments from Quinn’s firm for the duration of their House service, never reporting on financial disclosure forms – as is required for lawmakers – any income their employer made from lobbyist principals, Pascoe said.
“The defendant used legislators, groomed legislators and conspired with legislators and others to violate multiple sections of the ethics act so they could make money,” Pascoe said.
Edge and Harrison were each granted bond Tuesday on their several charges, including criminal conspiracy and misconduct. Pascoe said both have been cooperative with his investigation.
Richard Quinn has advised some of South Carolina’s leading Republicans, including Gov. Henry McMaster, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson. In March, state police agents raided a Columbia office that housed his consulting shop, as well as son Rick Quinn’s direct-mail business, retrieving documents and flash drives, among other items.
From 2006 through this month, Richard Quinn tried to influence lawmakers’ votes without being a registered lobbyist, Pascoe said.
Quinn made money off power companies, telecommunications companies and payday lenders, “all under the radar because his legislative employees failed to put that information on their statement of economic interest,” Pascoe said. Quinn spread it around, too, paying out more than $1 million to legislative leaders over efforts to benefit his clients in the health care industry, Pascoe added.
“The defendant has absolutely had tentacles throughout South Carolina, and he has used those tentacles to corrupt the system,” Pascoe said.
Debbie Barbier, Richard Quinn’s attorney, denied allegations that her client has acted as a lobbyist. But she said she’d save the rest of his defense for a later time in court.
The lawmakers in court Tuesday have all been affiliated in some way with Richard Quinn, as have the other two former lawmakers already convicted in the case. Former House Speaker Bobby Harrell and House Majority Leader Jim Merrill were sentenced to probation after pleading guilty to misconduct charges of their own. Both were Quinn clients.
Two lawmakers already charged in the case appeared on new charges. Rep. Rick Quinn, the elder Quinn’s son, engaged in criminal conspiracy with his father and other lawmakers, Pascoe said, giving an example of both Quinns asking a state lawmaker to “take a dive” on a piece of legislation in a way that would benefit a Quinn client. Sen. John Courson was charged with statutory misconduct in office. Both men already faced other misconduct charges and were allowed to remain free on bond.
Pascoe has declined to comment further on the case, which has been ongoing for years. After court, Rick Quinn told reporters the charges against him are false and reiterated previous comments about his family being caught in the middle of political gamesmanship.
Citing an unspecified conflict, state Attorney General Alan Wilson — also a Quinn client — several years ago turned his prosecution of Harrell over to David Pascoe, a special prosecutor and Democratic solicitor who has mulled a bid for attorney general. Wilson unsuccessfully fought to get the probe back under his control when Pascoe sought to expand it to other lawmakers.
The younger Quinn said Tuesday the entire investigation is politically tainted, alleging that Pascoe hasn’t gone after any of his fellow Democrats with the same intensity as he has Republicans.
“We are very anxious to get our day in court,” Rick Quinn said.