Top GOP consultant charged with illegal lobbying, conspiracy
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A top Republican political consultant and two former state representatives were indicted Wednesday in a corruption scheme in South Carolina’s Legislature that has now ensnared half a dozen lawmakers.
Solicitor David Pascoe announced that the State Grand Jury had returned indictments against Richard Quinn on charges of criminal conspiracy and failure to register as a lobbyist. Jim Harrison, former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, was charged with criminal conspiracy, common law misconduct and statutory misconduct.
Former Rep. Tracy Edge was indicted with those same charges, plus perjury.
Grand jurors also issued new indictments for two lawmakers already charged. Rep. Rick Quinn, the elder Quinn’s son, was charged with criminal conspiracy. Sen. John Courson was charged with statutory misconduct in office. Both men already faced other misconduct charges.
Attorneys for the Quinns and Courson didn’t immediately respond to emails seeking comment. A message left at Harrison’s law firm wasn’t immediately returned, and a phone listing for Edge was disconnected.
The indictments, released Wednesday, revealed few details about the charges. Prosecutors said the Quinns began conspiring to violate ethics and campaign finance laws as early as April 2011, “for the purpose of attaining a financial or economic advantage.” From 2006 through this month, according to the indictments, Richard Quinn tried to influence lawmakers’ votes without being a registered lobbyist.
Edge lied to investigators in March during questioning about the Quinns’ businesses, according to an indictment.
The charges against Richard Quinn come after months of speculation, as Pascoe has continued to investigate allegations of wrongdoing among the state’s lawmakers.
All of those charged thus far have been clients of Quinn, a longtime operative who has advised some of South Carolina’s most notable Republicans, including Gov. Henry McMaster, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson. In March, state police agents raided a Columbia office that housed his consulting shop, as well as son Rick Quinn’s direct-mail business, retrieving documents and flash drives, among other items.
The Quinns have long contended they keep their businesses and political clients separate, but the earlier indictment against Quinn Jr. alleged he has an economic interest in all of them.
A longtime client of Quinn Sr. is Attorney General Alan Wilson, who turned the investigation over to Pascoe in 2014 when then-House Speaker Bobby Harrell was indicted because he was worried about a conflict of interest. Wilson unsuccessfully fought to get the probe back under his control when Pascoe sought to expand it to other lawmakers.
Harrell and former House Majority Leader Jim Merrill pleaded guilty and were sentenced to probation on misconduct charges, both pledging to help authorities with their ongoing investigation. Both were also Richard Quinn clients.
A bond hearing has not been scheduled. According to Pascoe, criminal conspiracy carries a possible five years in prison and $5,000 in fines. The illegal lobbying charge is punishable by up to a year in prison, as is statutory misconduct. Common law misconduct is punishable by up to a decade in prison and fines at the court’s discretion.
The Quinns and those close to them have suggested Pascoe, a Democrat, has pushed the probe because he’s seeking higher office, a theory Pascoe has denied. So far, only Republicans have been charged.
Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP. Read more of her work at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/meg-kinnard/