Rep. Rick Quinn pleads guilty in State House corruption probe


State Rep. Rick Quinn, R-Lexington, agreed to plead guilty to one count of misconduct in office Wednesday.

Quinn’s guilty plea is part of a deal in which charges against his father, powerful political consultant Richard Quinn, were dropped. The elder Quinn also agreed to cooperate with the ongoing investigation.

However, one of the elder Quinn’s companies will pay a $300,000 fine for failing to register as a lobbyist.

Rick Quinn agreed to the guilty plea knowing the state would seek a sentence involving jail time, special prosecutor David Pascoe said. Quinn could be sentenced to one year in prison and fined $1,000.

Prosecutors alleged Richard Quinn & Associates, the political consulting firm operated by Quinn’s father, was paid millions of dollars by some of South Carolina’s most prominent companies and institutions to illegally push bills in the S.C. General Assembly. Rep. Quinn was secretly and illegally paid some of that money to use his position as a lawmaker to advocate for the proposals, Pascoe told the court.

Has the case gone to trial, “We (the prosecution) would have proved … that the defendants’ company had failed to disclose over $4 million in unreported income from lobbyists principles,” Pascoe told judge. “We would have disclosed that defendant First Impressions (another Quinn company) used Rick Quinn to make money.”

As a state representative, “Rick Quinn has always maintained he has no interest in his father’s company,” said Pascoe, citing a letter Quinn wrote to the State Ethics Commission saying he had no stake in his father’s firm.

But, Pascoe added, that statement was “an absolute fabrication … a lie.”

In 2012, for instance, Rick Quinn threatened to “leave the family business” if he didn’t get “consistent checks” from First Impressions.

“What I do for the family,” the younger Quinn emailed his father, “I need to know that I will have consistent checks.”

Said Pascoe: “For over a decade, he (Rick Quinn) said he did not work for his father, but that one email proved he was lying.”

Pascoe also said:

▪ Numerous big companies like the embattled SCANA utility paid more than $4 million to RQ&A that wasn’t reported.

▪ As House majority leader from 1999 to 2004, Quinn steered $270,000 in House GOP caucus money to his own company.

“When you use your position as majority leader to send money (to yourself), that’s a violation” of the law, Pascoe told Judge Carmen May.

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However, he noted that the S.C. attorney general doesn’t think the practice violates the law. “But,” Pascoe added, “I do.”

The guilty pleas bring a dramatic end to a powerful S.C. political empire — the so-called “Quinndom” — that was decades in the making, an empire whose work to influence S.C. laws was carried out largely in secret.

In the past, the firm contended it only managed political campaigns and devised political strategies for its corporate clients.

However, prosecutors alleged it did more, illegally lobbying the Legislature — without registering as a lobbyist — and then paying off some legislators to ensure the legislation it wanted passed was passed.

The Quinn consulting firm have occupied one of the most prestigious, influential insider positions in S.C. Republican politics, earning millions of dollars as campaign advisers for some of the state’s most prominent politicians.

Those politicians include Gov. Henry McMaster, R-Richland; state Attorney General Alan Wilson, R-Lexington; U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-Lexington, and the father of the attorney general; U.S. Sen, Lindsey Graham, R-Seneca; state Secretary of Education Molly Spearman, R-Saluda; state Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, also head of the powerful Senate Finance Committee; and Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Luke Rankin, R-Horry.

The Quinn firm also helped elect Columbia mayor Steve Benjamin, a Democrat.

The firm’s business clients have included some of the state’s largest public and private institutions – the University of South Carolina, Cayce-based SCANA, ATT, the Palmetto Health hospital system, BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina, the State Ports Authority and others.

As part of the plea deal, Rep. Quinn resigned from office and agreed to cooperate with Pascoe’s ongoing probe of political corruption at the S.C. State House.

Since his indictment earlier this year, Rick Quinn repeatedly had said he was innocent and being hounded by a prosecutor’s “witch hunt.”

Pascoe’s investigation into public corruption at the State House is more than three years old. It has been marked by repeated attempts to limit or stop the investigation or kick Pascoe off the case.

Since getting former House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, to plead guilty to misusing campaign money in October 2014, Pascoe has indicted six more people.

▪ One, former state Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Berkeley, has pleaded guilty to misconduct charges and is cooperating with Pascoe.

▪ A trial for state Sen. John Courson, R-Richland, accused of misconduct in office, has been set for Feb. 26.

▪ Two other former GOP legislators, Tracy Edge of Myrtle Beach and Jim Harrison of Columbia, and political consultant Richard Quinn are awaiting trial on various charges.

All of the accused have maintained their innocence



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