COLUMBIA — Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin said he regrets going on a trip that included a visit to a Florida strip club with a business partner who was convicted this week on felony racketeering charges.
Benjamin issued a statement around 10 p.m. Thursday, several hours after a federal jury found former South Carolina State University trustee Jonathan Pinson guilty of 29 charges.
The jury found Pinson guilty of at least some charges in four different business schemes. One of them involved a low-income Columbia housing development called the Village at Rivers Edge
Benjamin reiterated he was never charged in any of Pinson’s dealings and he severed ties with Pinson before he started doing anything illegal.
“My ownership interest in the Village at Rivers Edge terminated in August of 2009 and, after that date, I no longer maintained any role in the management of the project. Furthermore, after my election as Mayor in April of 2010, I conflicted myself out of all decisions directly or indirectly related to the project. This position is well documented at the City of Columbia,” Benjamin wrote in his statement.
The mayor’s name came up frequently in Pinson’s trial, even though he was never charged. Some of the most salacious accusations came from a developer who testified he took Benjamin and Pinson to Florida where they visited a strip club.
“I regret being present for certain aspects of the previously referenced trip. I should have used better judgment. However to be clear, I did not at any time engage in any illegal activity while in Orlando,” Benjamin wrote.
Benjamin said he did not violate state ethics laws by failing to report the trip as a gift because it involved his personal businesses and not official city business.
Benjamin asked for prayers for Pinson and his family. The married father of two also asked for prayers for himself and his family.
“As a family we are stronger than ever,” Benjamin said.