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Separate Trials Requested in SC State Case

COLUMBIA S.C.—A businessman charged in a public corruption case involving South Carolina State University wants to be tried separately from a former trustee, but prosecutors said in papers filed Thursday that two trials would be unnecessarily costly.

Late last month, attorneys for Eric Robinson argued that being tried alongside Jonathan Pinson would “unfairly and irreparably prejudice” their client and deprive him of his right to due process.

Robinson and Pinson were initially arrested in January as part of a kickback scheme involving the Orangeburg school. Prosecutors said Robinson conspired to get kickbacks for Pinson in exchange for his assurance that Robinson’s entertainment company would be used to promote a 2011 homecoming concert at S.C. State.

Last month, the federal government brought new charges against both men including racketeering and fraud. Pinson has also been accused of trying to get S.C. State to buy land from a Florida developer in exchange for a Porsche SUV as a “thank you” gift for Pinson.

Pinson is also accused of lying to law enforcement; paying himself money that should have gone to contractors on a government-funded project; and submitting false paperwork to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in order to get more money.

So far, five people have pleaded guilty in connection with the investigation. Florida developer Richard Zahn and former S.C. State campus police chief Michael Bartley have pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges.

Another former S.C. State board member and two co-investors have pleaded guilty to bank fraud and conspiracy. Prosecutors say Lance Wright who served on the board with Pinson from 2008 until 2012, when both men resigned and two business partners used loans intended to fund certain projects to pay off other expenses and gave $5,000 to an employee of the City of Columbia, where the men were developing a 60-unit, public housing complex.

Robinson and Pinson have both pleaded not guilty. In documents filed Thursday, federal prosecutors said Robinson’s arguments for a separate trial weren’t strong enough and also noted that multiple trials would cost the public unnecessary funds.

“Should this defendant be severed for trial, the Government will, in effect, try the same case twice, at great cost of money and resources to the Court, the Government and the public,” prosecutors wrote. “Such an action would not benefit the defendant, and yet would be a disservice to the interests of judicial economy.”

U.S. District Judge David Norton is assigned to the case and will make a determination later on whether to sever the trials.

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