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Fla. businessman pleads guilty to fraud involving former S.C. State officials

By Lauren Ratcliffe
Published Feb. 8, 2013

Indictments and guilty pleas continued in the corruption scandal involving S.C. State University. Friday morning, before Judge David Norton in federal court, Richard Zahn pleaded guilty to his role in the alleged kickback scheme.

Zahn, 44, is a businessman from Florida who owns more than 80 acres in Cameron, in Orangeburg County. The property, located at 499 Wild Hearts Lane, is known as The Sportsman’s Retreat and is about 10 miles from S.C. State’s campus, prosecutors said.

Zahn pleaded guilty to felony charges of wire fraud, and an attempt to affect interstate commerce by extortion. According to court documents, Zahn said he worked with Michael Bartley, the university’s former chief of police, and Jonathan Pinson, the former chair of the board of trustees, in a scheme whereby S.C. State would purchase the Sportsman’s Retreat in exchange for money and automobiles.

Bartley pleaded guilty to his role Jan. 10. That same day, Pinson pleaded not guilty to his grand jury indictment.

Prosecutors said a wire tap of Pinson’s phone revealed a scheme for the university to purchase the property for $2.8 million. Prosecutors said Zahn admitted to planning on purchasing a Porsche Cayenne for Pinson. He said that Bartley also was expecting to receive something in return. After an interview by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Zahn withdrew the sale of the property, prosecutors said.

The maximum sentence Zahn could receive is a five-year prison sentence, $250,000 fine, three-year supervised release and a $100 special assessment. Prosecutors said that in Zahn’s plea agreement, they will recommend three years’ probation if he cooperates fully. Zahn will also make a contribution to S.C. State University for student scholarships as stipulated in his plea agreement. The amount of that contribution will be determined by the court.

Zahn is represented by Charleston attorney Andy Savage, who said Zahn saw the payments as “a cost of doing business.”

“When (Zahn) went to Orangeburg, he did that with the intent of helping S.C. State,” Savage said. “He had no idea of the culture of corruption.”

Prosecutors said it was too early to say whether more indictments would come in this case, but Savage hinted that this was only the beginning.

“You just wait to see what this investigation brings out,” he said.

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