Judge reduces sentence for former SC State board chair
CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - A federal judge re-sentenced the former South Carolina State University board chairman Thursday who was found guilty of a kickback scheme.
Judge David Norton reduced Jonathan Pinson's five-year sentence to four years in federal prison, with three years supervised release. He will also have to pay nearly $338,000 in restitution.
"Four years is a significant amount of time for somebody who committed the criminal conduct that Mr. Pinson did," said Assistant U.S. Attorney J.D. Rowell. "We defer to the judge's judgment and we're certainly satisfied with the sentence."
"It's time for him to move forward and get this behind him," said Pinson's attorney James Griffin. "I know he's anxious to get this behind him, and there's a life of good ahead of him, and that's what he plans to do."
In 2014 Pinson was convicted of racketeering and money laundering after a jury found him guilty of stealing government funds, and using his board influence to get the school to try and buy land from a developer in Florida in exchange for a new car.
Prosecutors said Pinson was involved in four different schemes, one which revolved around the 2011 homecoming concert at SCSU which resulted in Pinson's efforts to steer the concert promotion contract to a close friend of his.
"Jonathan has learned his lesson," Griffin said. "I've represented Jonathan... the government is out making an example of folks and I think what happened here is that bigger fish got off the hook."
"That's the hope, that we have deterrence," Rowell said. "Everybody knows that there's a light on public officials in South Carolina now, more so than there was during the original trial. That is our hope and we certainly fell that sentence sends that message loud and clear."
In 2017 the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated his conviction on three of the 29 counts he received, bringing the case back to court Thursday.
"It feels good to get to the end of the road," Rowell said. "Like I said, I hope we're at the end of the road, and I think everyone would agree."
In court Thursday Pinson thanked the judge for allowing him to be out on bond. While he said he hoped for probation, he wanted to assure the court he would not do anything unethical or illegal moving forward.
"Any day in prison is a bad day," Griffin said. "He got the benefit of the ruling from the fourth circuit."
"I felt like he was genuine," Rowell said. "Certainly there's been a lot of time since the trial. A lot of time has passed, and I think Judge Norton's comments sort of brought it back to what we certainly recall were the facts of this case."
Norton said these were serious offensive schemes that affected taxpayers money, and the sentence Thursday would reflect severity of those offenses.
The court document also cited sentencing discrepancies among Pinson's co-defendants.
Pinson's attorneys hope to have their client serve his federal sentence in Edgefield. They will have 14 days to file an appeal to Thursday's imposed sentence.
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