- Associated Press - Thursday, December 14, 2017

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - There may be much more to come in an investigation into South Carolina Statehouse corruption that has already scored guilty pleas from two former Republican House Majority Leaders.

The plea deal State Solicitor David Pascoe agreed to with Rep. Rick Quinn Jr. and his Republican consultant father Richard Quinn Sr. on Wednesday has a critical component - the father’s full cooperation with investigators in exchange for dropping charges punishable by up to six years in prison.

That cooperation includes Quinn Sr.’s testimony in January before the State Grand Jury that has indicted seven people so far.

“We’re going to find out a lot next month,” Pascoe said.

While Quinn Sr.’s charges were dropped, his son pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of misconduct in office for taking $4 million in money from lobbyists and doing their bidding for the Quinns’ consulting business.

Pascoe wants Quinn Jr., who was Majority Leader more than a decade ago, to serve the maximum year in prison. Defense lawyers say his only crime was failing to register some clients, and he deserves probation like the other two lawmakers convicted so far. A judge has delayed his sentencing.

Quinn Sr. has helped mostly conservative candidates in South Carolina for four decades, with high-profile clients including Gov. Henry McMaster, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and state Attorney General Alan Wilson.

Other than Wilson, none of Quinn Sr.’s most powerful clients have been mentioned in court hearings, and Pascoe has been careful to not tip off where his investigation is going in public. But at Wednesday’s guilty plea for Rick Quinn Jr., Pascoe took special care to highlight Wilson’s connections to the Quinns and their businesses.

Pascoe presented emails that seemed to show Quinn Sr.’s consulting business helping to write press releases for Wilson’s office after the father and son were mentioned in a 2013 State Law Enforcement Division report that led to the case’s first indictments.

An even harsher spotlight from Pascoe involved a company called Infilaw, which unsuccessfully tried for several years to buy the Charleston School of Law.

Pascoe showed documents indicating that Infilaw started paying Quinn Sr.’s consulting firm during the six days between a lawmaker asking for an opinion on whether the Commission of Higher Education could stop the sale over concerns about admission processes at other Infilaw schools, and an opinion from Wilson’s office saying their lawyers didn’t think those were legal grounds to stop the sale. The May 30, 2014, opinion was issued just days before the end of the Legislative session, where the sale was a sticking point.

Of the 65 other opinions that included the dates they were requested from the Attorney General’s Office in 2014 , 61 of them took longer to write. The four that took a shorter time dealt with long-established issues of law, such as whether someone can hold two elected offices at a time, or the rules for special elections and managing estates.

Wilson’s office denied any suggestion of a link between the Infilaw opinion and the firm hiring the Quinns, saying the opinion section was created to be separate from the elected attorney general.

“I spoke to the two attorneys who wrote the Infilaw opinion and both say unequivocally that the Quinns had absolutely no influence on that opinion,” Wilson spokesman Robert Kittle said in an email.

Pascoe has rejuvenated this investigation before. He said Wednesday that the probe appeared to be facing some dead ends after indicting the man who followed Quinn as Republican House Majority Leader, Jim Merrill, in December 2016.

But then Merrill told investigators everything he knew even before a plea deal was put on the table, Pascoe said.

If it was not for Merrill’s cooperation, “we wouldn’t know about any of this,” Pascoe said Wednesday, as he started outlining the Quinns’ lobbying efforts for several businesses and groups including AT&T;, utility SCANA, major health care provider Palmetto Health and the University of South Carolina.

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Follow Jeffrey Collins at http://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP . See his work at https://apnews.com/search/jeffrey%20collins

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