Developer pleads guilty in SC State corruption investigation

(Photo: WISTV)
(Photo: WISTV)

The Florida developer who federal prosecutors say was involved in an alleged kickback scheme with a South Carolina State University trustee pleaded guilty in court Friday morning.

Richard Zahn appeared at the Charleston federal courthouse to plea to a charge of conspiracy to defraud the federal government, which he was charged of earlier this week.

As a result of his plea, Zahn must fully cooperate with U.S. Attorney's Office and the FBI in prosecution of former South Carolina State Board of Trustees Chairman Jonathon Pinson.

"From the FBI's standpoint and from the US Attorney's office, we're very pleased Mr. Zahn's taken responsibility for his actions," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Nancy Wicker.

Prosecutors say Zahn and Pinson plotted a scheme for the university to purchase a 120-acre stretch of land in Orangeburg County for around $3 million.

In the deal, according to the feds, Pinson would get a $110,000 Porsche Cayenne kickback once the university cut the check to Zahn.

The FBI says Zahn nearly had the land sold until the feds swooped in and shut it down.

"He didn't ask for the assistance for the money," said Zahn's attorney, Andy Savage. "You heard the facts today. It became a cost of doing business that if he wanted to do business there, it was expected because it was the culture of the community there."

Zahn admitted to the land deal as soon as the FBI caught him. Prosecutors plan to ask for a reduced sentence for Zahn in exchange for his cooperation in the investigation.

"He regrets what he did," said Savage."He regrets succumbing to the pressure that was placed upon him, and he wants to do everything he can do to redress the situation."

Pinson faced a federal kickback charge in court weeks ago.

Zahn remains free on a $100,000 bond until a sentencing hearing where he could face up 5 years in prison.

The only person charged in this case who has not pleaded is Pinson. Despite the wiretap evidence that forced two guilty pleas, Pinson's attorney says the investigtion was flawed.

There are no dates for the sentencings or for Pinson's trial yet.

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