Mayor Responds to Claims Made During Pinson Trial

Columbia, SC (WLTX) - Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin released a statement late Thursday night, addressing allegations that came up during the public corruption trial of a former South Carolina trustee and friend of Benjamin.

The comments came hours after a federal jury found Jonathan Pinson guilty of 29 counts, including racketeering. Related Coverage: Ex-Trustee Guilty of 29 Counts

"Now that a verdict has been rendered, it needs to be made clear that I have done nothing illegal," Benjamin said.

During court proceedings, prosecution witness Charles Smith, a former vice-president with SC State, detailed an impromptu business trip taken to Orlando in December of 2010. The trip, according to Smith, also included former SC State Police Chief Mike Bartley, businessman Richard Zahn, and Benjamin.

Smith claimed that all of them went to a strip club after dinner. Then, according to his testimony, two of the girls from the strip club came back to the hotel with them.

Benjamin confirmed he's been asked by the State Ethics Commission about the trip, which he says did not involve any City of Columbia business.

"We have met with the Ethics Commission and are confident that after a thorough review of all of the facts, they will determine that it was a personal business trip and as such, not a matter to be reported," he said.

While he doesn't specifically address the claims made during testimony, Benjamin did admit there were parts of the excursion that he shouldn't have attended.

"I regret being present for certain aspects of the previously referenced trip. I should have used better judgment. However to be clear, I did not at any time engage in any illegal activity while in Orlando."

Part of Pinson's conviction was for his involvement in a failed housing development in Columbia called The Village at Rivers Edge. At one point, Benjamin had an interest in that development, but he says he ended his part in the deal long before he became mayor in 2010.

"My ownership interest in the Village at Rivers Edge terminated in August of 2009 and, after that date, I no longer maintained any role in the management of the project," Benjamin said. "Furthermore, after my election as Mayor in April of 2010, I conflicted myself out of all decisions directly or indirectly related to the project. This position is well documented at the City of Columbia."

During the trial, neither the prosecution nor the defense called Benjamin to testify. The mayor said his thoughts and prayers are with the Pinson family.

Benjamin also confirmed to News19 late Thursday that he is no longer employed at Parker Poe Adams and Bernstein Law Firm. He said his last day was on Monday, but did not give a reason why he is no longer with the firm.


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