News Column

Testimony in Pinson trial focuses on additional tales of money woes

June 21, 2014

By Martha Rose Brown, The Times and Democrat, Orangeburg, S.C.

June 21--COLUMBIA -- Robert A. "Tony" Williams, who was once a business partner of former South Carolina State University board members Jonathan Pinson and Lance Wright, continued his testimony Friday morning about failed investments, loans and debts.

Both Williams and Wright have pleaded guilty to bank fraud and conspiracy charges.

Pinson is being tried on 52 federal corruption charges involving several alleged schemes. Co-defendant Eric Robinson is also being tried in connection with one alleged scheme involving a 2011 S.C. State homecoming concert.

Most of Friday's witnesses talked about a Columbia housing complex known as the Village at River's Edge and a struggling diaper-manufacturing company in Marion County.

Both investments involved Pinson, Williams and Wright.

Pinson's attorney, Jim Griffin, cross-examined Williams, the prosecution's witness, "You're testifying today as part of your plea agreement?"

"I'm here telling the truth today for a whole 'nother reason. I gave my life to Jesus," Williams said.

During his two hours on the stand, Williams said several times that he couldn't be listed as a "principal" on the Village at River'sEdge LLC because, "I wasn't a minority and it had to be minority-owned."

But Williams, who was also dealing with his own failed financial plights, piped in thousands of dollars at a time because he had become friends with Wright and Pinson, who he often referred to as "J.P."

At one time he gave Pinson $72,000 because of payments that were due at the bank concerning the Village at River's Edge group.

Williams said that he and Wright had reached an agreement.

Any profits that Wright made through the Village at River's Edge investment, Wright would split them with him, Williams said.

Williams said he even co-signed on a bank loan for $500,000 because Wright and a former investor -- current Columbia mayor Steve Benjamin -- didn't "feel like their credit had worthiness" for taking out such a hefty loan.

Benjamin later sold his portion of investments in the Village at River's Edge group.

Williams also testified that he, Pinson, Wright and others would regularly have "meetings all day" that would begin at 10 a.m. and end at 9 p.m. and that they'd meet at the bar at the Hilton Hotel in Columbia and drink alcohol.

In addition to Williams, other witnesses called by prosecutors were: Gabriel, who is former employee of a diaper-manufacturing company in Marion County, Columbia-area engineer Chimin "Jimmy" Chao and Biana Crawford, who worked as a community liaison during the early phase of the Village at River's Edge physical prep work when the lots were being graded and readied for construction.

On Monday, jurors are expected to hear more about the Village at River's Edge and its financial woes during the establishment and construction period.

The trial is taking place at the Matthew Perry Courthouse in Columbia.

Six individuals have pleaded guilty in connection with the federal corruption probe.

They are:

Michael Bartley, the former S.C. State chief of police, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy for trying to arrange the university's purchase of the Sportsman's Retreat property in Orangeburg in exchange for approximately $30,000 in cash and an all-terrain vehicle.

Richard Zahn, a Flordia developer and Orangeburg County resort property owner, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the federal government. Zahn owned Sportsman's Retreat, a 121-acre property located about 10 miles from the Orangeburg campus.

Lance Wright, who served on the S.C. State board, who pleaded guilty to bank fraud and conspiracy. Wright used loans intended to fund certain projects for personal reason, including giving $5,000 to an employee of the city of Columbia, where he was developing a 60-unit, public housing complex.

Phillip Mims, co-investor with Wright, who pleaded guilty to bank fraud and conspiracy.

Robert A. "Tony" Williams, co-investor with Wright, who pleaded guilty to bank fraud and conspiracy.

Edwin Givens, former S.C. State general counsel, who pleaded guilty to misprision of a felony for knowing of a kickback scheme involving the 2011 homecoming concert and not alerting law enforcement.

Contact the writer: or 803-533-5545 Follow on Twitter: @MRBrownTandD


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