Ex-SC GOP consultant Richard Quinn faces fresh charges in corruption investigation

·6 min read

Richard Quinn Sr., once a top South Carolina Republican consultant, told a state grand jury that Attorney General Alan Wilson was not paying him for drafting press statements and other documents — but that was a lie, according to a new indictment.

The new 38-page indictment, issued May 20 and supervised by new special prosecutor Barry Barnette, accuses Quinn of 12 different counts of perjury and two counts of obstruction of justice. Until now, the indictment had not been publicized. The State newspaper obtained the public record from the State Grand Jury’s Office in Columbia.

This indictment is modeled on a 33-page indictment from April 2019, issued by a former state grand jury and directed by former special prosecutor David Pascoe. The 2019 indictment had 11 perjury charges and one count of obstruction.

Both indictments detail secret payments of some $900,000 Quinn made to former state Rep. Jim Harrison, R-Richland, and the tens of thousands of dollars in a “kickback scheme” to former state Sen. John Courson, R-Richland. The new indictments allege that Quinn committed perjury and lied about the payments to a state grand jury.

The new indictment also charges Quinn with lying to the state grand jury about money his son, former state Rep. Rick Quinn, R-Lexington, received from the Quinn consulting firm, Richard Quinn & Associates. As a result of Pascoe’s investigation, Rick Quinn pleaded guilty to one act of misconduct and resigned from public office.

A new count of perjury accuses Richard Quinn of lying to the state grand jury when asked about an email he sent to state Attorney General Alan Wilson’s office in 2014. That email suggested that Pascoe be told he could not investigate Quinn’s son, who had been accused in a confidential State Law Enforcement Division report of “numerous allegations ... of official misconduct,” the new indictment said.

The allegations concerned the son’s practice of directing House Republican Caucus business to his own company while serving as the chamber’s House majority leader, the new indictment said.

Richard Quinn’s attorney, Rauch Wise of Greenwood, said Thursday that he had not seen the new indictment and was learning of it through The State’s reporter. Wise had no immediate comment.

“You would think the courteous thing to do would be to call the lawyer,” Wise said.

But Wise said he had previously filed a motion to dismiss the charges that Pascoe’s state grand jury brought. Wise indicated he would make a similar motion with the new indictment. A major objection to the charges is that Pascoe lacked the authority in his role of special prosecutor to bring charges against Quinn, Wise said.

A spokesman for Barnette declined comment Thursday on both the new indictment and why Barnette had not yet notified Quinn’s lawyer of the development.

The re-indictment signals the prosecution of Quinn is alive and well, said John Crangle, a lawyer who for years has followed ethics lapses and laws in the South Carolina General Assembly.

In January, former special prosecutor Pascoe stepped down from the years-long investigation without bringing Quinn to trial on the perjury charges.

In March, Wilson appointed Barnette, elected solicitor of the 7th Judicial Circuit, as the new special prosecutor. Barnette had the discretion to either continue Pascoe’s work or dismiss the charges.

From the new indictment, it is clear Barnette intends to vigorously prosecute Quinn, said Crangle, who has written a book on the 1990s General Assembly corruption scandal, coined Operation Lost Trust.

“It’s a good thing,” Crangle said Thursday. “Barry has a reputation of being a stand-up, professional prosecutor.”

New indictment details

Details about Harrison’s secret payments surfaced in his 2018 trial.

A Richland County jury found Harrison guilty of lying to a state grand jury about some $900,000 he secretly received from Quinn while he was chairman of the influential House Judiciary Committee. Harrison contended he was paid the money to help Quinn run political campaigns. But prosecutors introduced evidence showing Harrison had done no political work and had instead received the money for influencing legislation in the House.

Harrison reported to prison this week to begin serving an 18-month sentence as a result of that trial.

Courson has since pleaded guilty to misconduct and admitted he accepted some $159,000 from Quinn over six years. He has not yet been sentenced and could potentially be a witness in any trial of Quinn.

Courson and Harrison were veteran lawmakers and held positions in which they influenced legislation at Quinn’s bidding, according to the new indictments.

In mid-2014, as a special prosecutor whose investigation forced former House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, to plead guilty to campaign violations, Pascoe learned that the SLED report contained allegations against Rick Quinn and was pressing Wilson’s office to investigate the son.

Richard Quinn’s email, dated Oct. 27, 2014, urged the Attorney General’s Office to tell Pascoe to leave the issue alone and that any investigation of his son would be handled by Wilson’s office.

At the time, Wilson was paying Richard Quinn some $50,000 a year — a total of $400,000 from 2009 to 2017, according to the indictment.

“Quinn’s involvement with drafting correspondence on behalf of Attorney General Wilson to Solicitor Pascoe informing Solicitor Pascoe of the limitations of his authority was motivated by Quinn’s desire to protect his son Rick Quinn from being investigated and/or prosecuted by Solicitor Pascoe,” the new indictment said.

At the time, Wilson had a full-time press secretary and government affairs officer who could have worked up statements about who the attorney general should investigate, Barnette’s new indictment said.

Normally, paid political consultants do not tell prosecutors how to prosecute cases — especially cases involving the paid political consultant’s children, Crangle said.

“It’s abnormal for a prosecutor to be advised by the relative of a suspect. I’ve never heard of that before,” Crangle said.

In April and May 2018, testifying in a closed grand jury session, Quinn lied when he told the grand jury that he was not paid for writing press statements “and other documents” for Wilson during 2014, the new indictment said.

One of the witnesses testifying before Pascoe’s state grand jury was Wilson, who said that he in fact was paying Quinn during that time.

Asked Thursday if Wilson had any comment on the new indictment and its references to him, a Wilson spokesman emailed The State, “This Office wants to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, which is why we handed this case off to other solicitors. Since our office is not involved in this case, it would be inappropriate for us to comment.”

Pascoe declined comment on the new indictment.

But, of Barnette, he said, “Everyone should have the utmost confidence in Barry. He is a career professional and prosecutor who is fiercely independent.”