COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina Rep. Rick Quinn Jr. pleaded guilty to corruption charges Wednesday, becoming the third Republican lawmaker convicted in a wide-ranging Statehouse corruption probe as a prosecutor said the investigation is not over.
Prosecutors said they will ask for prison time for the 52-year-old former House Majority leader. Quinn faces up to a year behind bars on a charge of misconduct in office. The other two lawmakers who have pleaded guilty in the investigation have received probation and Quinn's lawyers said that should be his sentence too.
Quinn pleaded guilty to one count of misdemeanor misconduct in office, and prosecutor David Pascoe agreed to drop a second charge. Circuit Judge Carmen Mullen delayed sentencing after two hours of testimony that ended at nearly 7 p.m. She did not say when she would reconvene court.
Quinn broke the law by taking $4 million in unreported money from lobbyists on behalf of his father's consulting firm and did their bidding, Pascoe said.
"It wasn't about service to the people, it was about service to his pocketbook," Pascoe said.
As part of the deal, Quinn resigned and Pascoe also agreed to drop corruption charges against Quinn's Republican consultant father Richard Quinn Sr. But the elder Quinn must testify next month before a grand jury that continues to investigate legislators and others and fully cooperate with the State Law Enforcement Division. Richard Quinn Sr. has dozens of high-powered clients in the state, including U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and Attorney General Alan Wilson.
"We're going to find out a lot next month," Pascoe told Mullen, who asked why he was dropping the charges.
The consulting business, First Impressions, is also pleading guilty to not registering as a lobbyist and will pay a fine.
Rick Quinn resigned an hour before the hearing. He called his 21 years in the South Carolina House "one of the greatest honors of my life" in a letter to House Speaker Jay Lucas.
Quinn had called the investigation by Solicitor David Pascoe a "partisan witch hunt" and vowed to fight the charges and clear his name. But the guilty plea came after a trial date was set when Quinn's lawyers failed to get Pascoe tossed off the case. The attorneys had unsuccessfully accused Pascoe's office of mishandling evidence.
Quinn's lawyer Johnny Gasser said there were numerous holes in the prosecution's case, but Quinn felt like it was in his and his family's best interest to plead guilty
Quinn said he took the plea to spare his father.
Quinn had opinions from ethics lawyers and the state attorney general that he was handling his role as a legislator and his father's business properly both before and after there were legal questions, Gasser said.
Pascoe carefully picked only a few emails and documents out of thousands and thousands, leaving out many that would have cast doubt on Quinn's guilt, he said.
"He takes a page here and a page there and a page here and he concocts it together," Gasser said.
Quinn is the third GOP lawmaker to decide to plead guilty in the investigation. Former House Majority Leader Jim Merrill and former House Speaker Bobby Harrell both were sentenced to probation.
Pascoe said Merrill deserved probation because he walked in and told authorities everything he knew. But Quinn's behavior was much worse and deserves prison time.
"There has been no one more corrupt in Columbia than (Quinn)," Pascoe said.
The investigation started with Wilson looking into Harrell, and it likely would have ended there, but Wilson excused himself from the case, citing a conflict of interest because Quinn's father is his political consultant.
Pascoe took over the case, and Wilson tried to have him kicked off as the probe expanded, but was turned back by the state Supreme Court.
State Sen. John Courson, former House Judiciary Committee chairman Jim Harrison and former state Rep. Tracy Edge still face charges in an investigation that authorities said is not over. All the lawmakers are Republicans.
Pascoe ran as a solicitor as a Democrat and has denied any charges of partisanship in court, saying he is only going where the evidence takes him.
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