Attorney General Alan Wilson has close ties to two individuals named in a secret eight-page section of a SLED report involving potential public corruption in the S.C. General Assembly.
The two people are Rep. Rick Quinn, R-Lexington, and his father, Richard Quinn, as well as the father’s political consulting firm, Richard Quinn & Associates, the report says. The Quinns are Republicans, as is Wilson.
“Nothing improper was done,” Rick Quinn said in a statement to The State newspaper Wednesday.
A copy of the secret portion of the State Law Enforcement Division report – which is at the center of an explosive and historic legal battle between the attorney general and his special prosecutor, David Pascoe – was reviewed by State newspaper reporters and editors.
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In recent weeks, Wilson has tried to fire Pascoe, who with SLED Chief Mark Keel, is in the final stages of an ongoing investigation into possible public corruption described in the secret portion of the SLED report.
The secret pages of the SLED report are also in play in the S.C. Supreme Court, which may be set to decide whether Wilson can fire Pascoe and thereby possibly shut down or slow the ongoing investigation. Wilson has said publicly he wants the investigation to move forward but wants Pascoe to step aside.
Last summer, Wilson and his office, acknowledging that Wilson had an unspecified conflict of interest in the case, authorized Pascoe to be a special independent prosecutor and work with Keel to continue investigating material in the eight pages and portions of two other pages that were redacted when SLED released the report in November 2014. The report was issued in December 2013 during the public corruption report of then-House Speaker Bobby Harrell.
No charges have been brought against either Rick or Richard Quinn, to whom Wilson has ties. And the secret pages do not say that any charges will be brought.
But a SLED reference to Rick Quinn raises a question about whether he violated a state law that prohibits an office holder from using his public position for financial gain. The report says another state representative told SLED that Quinn used his position as House majority leader to make decisions about political mailers designed by the House Caucus, then sent caucus business to his personal company, making a profit on the business.
“I’m actually glad that the public can see I did nothing improper,” Quinn, House majority leader from 1999-2004, said in a statement Wednesday night. “Everybody knows that I have operated a direct mail business for over 20 years. I was majority leader 14 years ago, and I did mailings for the Republican Caucus before, during and after I was majority leader.”
All during that time, all “authorities” he checked with told him his mailings were “legal and appropriate” to provide campaign services to the Caucus, Quinn said.
Since then, two formal opinions have been issued, one by the House Ethics Committee, in October, and another by the Attorney General’s office, in December, saying that activities such as his are lawful, Quinn said.
John Crangle, ethics expert and executive director of S.C. Common Cause, said even if Quinn’s activities were lawful, lawmakers drumming up business from their legislative caucuses appears “to be an example of how these guys make a living off politics.”
In any case, further investigation is needed to see if a House member received excessive profits from doing business with a House Caucus, Crangle said.
Quinn said he didn’t make excessive profits. “Absolutely not. I was trying to save the caucus money,” Quinn said.
The Quinns and Wilson
A major question in the ongoing dispute between Wilson and Pascoe before the Supreme Court is whether Wilson has the right to fire Pascoe as the special prosecutor. Pascoe says that Wilson cannot fire him because he recused himself from the probe, citing his conflicts with people named in the secret pages of the SLED report.
Pascoe has refused comment on who is in SLED’s secret pages.
Richard Quinn’s political consulting business, Richard Quinn & Associates, helped Wilson win the office of attorney general.
Since 2009, when Wilson first thought about running for attorney general, he or his campaign has paid Richard Quinn & Associates more than $220,000 in various consulting, fundraising and other fees, according to filings with the S.C. Ethics Commission.
The payments have continued every year since, including the past 10 months that Pascoe and Keel have been investigating what’s in the secret portion of the SLED report.
Other Wilson ties to the Quinns include:
▪ Top Wilson aide Adam Piper, deputy chief of staff who makes $80,001, is a former Richard Quinn & Associates employee. Piper worked there from 2008 to 2011, according to his bio, which also says Piper “engineered the 2010 victories of State Treasurer Curtis Loftis and Attorney General Alan Wilson.” The former Quinn employee also was Wilson’s campaign manager in 2010. Piper started work in the attorney general’s office in 2012 and is now deputy chief of staff.
▪ Wilson was listed as a “special guest” at a $100-a-ticket fund-raiser March 29 for Rep. Rick Quinn at Nelson Mullins law firm in downtown Columbia. Other special guests included Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster and House Speaker Jay Lucas.
In a telephone interview Wednesday, Wilson declined to answer any questions about the matter. But he authorized his communications director, Hayley Thrift, to release a statement that said in part, “this matter is pending before the Supreme Court and it is deeply troubling that this investigative report has been inappropriately made public. It would be inappropriate for us to comment beyond this.”
The Quinns’ names surface in a section of the SLED report that deals largely with another state lawmaker, Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Berkeley.
In that section, Merrill – who was interviewed by SLED agents – told the agents that, while he was House majority leader, his company made a “ten, twelve, or fifteen percent” markup on mass printings and mailings for Republican candidates and the operation was approved by the House Republican Caucus.
Merrill’s company, Geechie Communications, “benefited” from the financial markup and was paid by the House GOP Caucus for a group called the Palmetto Leadership Council, the SLED report said.
Neither Quinn is quoted in the SLED report, suggesting agents did not talk to them at the time the report was written.
SLED’s secret pages quote Merrill as saying the following about the Quinns:
“Rep. Merrill added that, before he was Majority Leader, Rick Quinn was the Majority Leader of the House.
“While Quinn was the Majority Leader of the House, he had his own caucus team that discussed, decided, and produced mailers for candidates and House districts.
“Like Rep. Merrill, Quinn had his own consulting, advertising and marketing business.
“This business (RQ&A), was run by Rick Quinn and/or his father Richard Quinn in Columbia SC.
“Yet, unlike Rep. Merrill, Quinn ran his own printing house; therefore, he did not need to send the printing out to another source.
“Rep. Merrill felt that Quinn, while Majority Leader, sent most, if not all, of the caucus mailers to his own business,” the secret pages said.
The SLED report also said that Merrill’s and Rick Quinn’s activities “are potentially in conflict” with a S.C. law that prohibits “use of official position or office for financial gain.”
A Wednesday night statement from Merrill attorney Scott Schools decried publication of the secret SLED pages, saying in part, “The leak of the unredacted SLED report to the State newspaper is inexcusable at best and illegal at worst, and unfair to all involved ... only Solicitor Pascoe, SLED, and the Attorney General’s Office have lawful access to that report. The fact that The State now has access to it raises additional serious questions about the integrity of the investigation. Despite representations that this investigation involves serious ‘public corruption,’ the report discloses no such conduct.”
Schools added, “Now that the veil has been lifted from the redacted SLED report, Representative Merrill is relieved the public can see that this investigation is much ado about nothing. Representative Merrill agreed to be interviewed without counsel by SLED during the course of the Harrell investigation and truthfully recounted that his business had been compensated for services provided to the Caucus six years ago or more. Both the House Ethics Commission and the Attorney General’s Office have concluded that this conduct did not violate the law, and those conclusions are consistent with Representative Merrill’s understanding at the time and today.”