Corruption probe in the South Carolina State House
Richard Quinn, a legendary South Carolina political consultant who for years was a prominent defender of the Confederate flag, will be arraigned on perjury charges Tuesday, according to Jim Parks, clerk of the State Grand Jury.
The arraignment will take place at the Richland County courthouse at 3 p.m. before a state judge.
Quinn, 74, was indicted April 18 by a state grand jury on 11 counts of perjury and one count of obstruction of justice — charges connected mostly to an alleged network of illegal influence peddling in the state Legislature.
Quinn’s indictment last month was the latest stemming from a years-long ethics investigation targeting the S.C. General Assembly, which in recent years has seen a half-dozen or so convictions and guilty pleas of corrupt State House politicians, nearly all of whom had ties to Quinn.
Over the years, Quinn had served as a paid top consultant to campaigns of winning Republican politicians like Gov. Henry McMaster, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, Attorney General Alan Wilson and Wilson’s father, U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, to name a few. Quinn’s network of influence, which included the S.C. General Assembly, was dubbed the “Quinndom.”
At the arraignment, Quinn will be formally charged and bond will be set.
S.C. state Judge Jocelyn Newman most likely will not require Quinn to put up a financial bond, typical in cases where a defendant is not considered a danger to society or a flight risk. Quinn also is expected to plead not guilty.
What happens next is anybody’s guess. It is typical in criminal cases that months, or more than a year, can go by before someone stands trial or a plea deal is worked out.
It is Quinn’s second indictment in 19 months by a state grand jury.
His first indictment, in October 2017, was for a felony charge of criminal conspiracy — Quinn was accused of being the mastermind of a ring of illegal influence peddling, according to special prosecutor David Pascoe — and for failing to register as a lobbyist.
Pascoe resolved those charges by dropping the conspiracy charges and allowing Quinn’s firm, Richard Quinn & Associates, to plead guilty to failing to register as a lobbyist. As part of that deal, Quinn’s son — former state Rep. Rick Quinn, R-Lexington — was allowed to resign his elected position and to plead guilty to a charge of official misconduct. Indictments in that case had charged that Quinn’s son was part of the elder Quinn’s network of influence peddling.
Also part of that deal was that Richard Quinn would testify before Pascoe’s state grand jury.
In April and May of 2018, Richard Quinn did testify before the state grand jury, but during that testimony - according to the most recent indictment - he lied about the reasons he made secret payments totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars to former Rep. Jim Harrison, R-Richland, and former Sen. John Courson, R-Richland.
The indictment says that both Harrison and Courson then went on to do Quinn’s bidding on various bills pending in the Legislature.
At the time Quinn allegedly lied to the state grand jury about his financial relationships to Harrison and Courson, both men had been charged with criminal conspiracy in connection with Quinn’s network. But neither Harrison nor Courson had stood trial.
Several months after Quinn testified to the state grand jury, Courson pleaded guilty to official misconduct and resigned his office. Pascoe and his team of State Law Enforcement Division investigators had assembled an air-tight case against Courson based entirely on Quinn’s own records and Courson’s banking records — which showed Courson accepted numerous illegal payments from Quinn’s firm totaling more than $150,000. Quinn’s testimony wasn’t needed to convince Courson to plead guilty.
In October of last year, Harrison gambled he could beat the state grand jury’s charges that he had illegally accepted secret payments for 13 years totaling $900,000 from Quinn’s firm. After a weeklong trial, a Richland County jury found Harrison guilty of official misconduct and perjury. State Judge Carmen Mullen sentenced Harrison to 18 months in prison. Harrison is appealing.
Had Quinn told the state grand jury in the spring of 2018 that he had made illegal payments to Harrison to influence Harrison’s actions, Quinn would likely have testified against Harrison at Harrison’s trial. But apparently because Quinn’s testimony would not have helped bolster the prosecution’s case, Pascoe did not call Quinn to the witness stand.
Courson has not been sentenced yet.
Should Quinn go to trial, Courson will be a possible witness against Quinn.
In testimony before the state grand jury, Courson told that body that Quinn was the one who arranged for him to get the secret illegal payments, according to the latest indictment.
Quinn is no stranger to controversy. In the 1980s and 1990s, he was editor-in-chief of a Southern white heritage magazine that celebrated aspects of Southern society and culture in the former states of the Confederacy. The magazine also ran articles defending the Confederate flag’s flying in prominent public positions, including on top of the S.C. State House.