Former Lexington County sheriff’s deputy planning campaign for his old boss’s seat – three years out

nophillips@thestate.comAugust 29, 2013 

As chatter continues about a joint federal and state investigation into alleged misconduct of Lexington County officials, some are smelling blood in the water.

While there is plenty of talk about who might run for future offices, one person has gone so far as to prepare to run for Lexington County sheriff, a seat held for more than 40 years by Sheriff James Metts.

Jim Crawford, a Columbia Police Department officer, has bought the Internet domain name There is little on the web page except for a large image of a Lexington County Sheriff’s Department badge with a smaller box with Crawford’s name, an email address and the words “Experience. Vision. Leadership.”

“You’ve heard some of the speculation and postulation about what is coming around the corner, and I decided to gear up for it,” said Crawford, who had worked for Metts for 24 years when he accepted a Columbia police job in December.

The talk about an investigation began in the summer of 2012 when Lexington Town Councilman Danny Frazier secretly was recorded advising people who said they were potential investors on ways to set up video sweepstakes machines without problems in the Midlands. Frazier boasted about his connections to others in positions of authority. The recording was leaked to the news media.

The recording came as the video poker industry was trying to re-establish itself in South Carolina and as SLED began cracking down on Internet sweepstakes parlors and other businesses that had the machines. Video poker operators said a perceived loophole allowed their operation in the county, but SLED Chief Mark Keel and Attorney General Alan Wilson disagreed and declared the machines illegal.

Later, Frazier apologized for embarrassing the county and said he was exaggerating in the recorded conversation. He also survived an attempt to oust him from Town Council.

But people continue to talk about the alleged video poker ring, who might be involved and what kind of investigation is ongoing into its operation.

The State newspaper emailed questions about Crawford’s campaign and the investigation to Maj. John Allard, Metts’ spokesman at the sheriff’s department. But Allard did not answer the questions.

Shortly after the secret recording of Frazier surfaced, Metts began more aggressive enforcement of video poker in the county after first saying his agency lacked the expertise to enforce the games, especially with the uncertainty over state law.

Also last summer, Metts returned at least $4,500 in campaign contributions to businesses and individuals who had ties to the video gambling industry after The State newspaper showed him a county magistrate’s decision that equipment seized in a raid there was illegal.

Metts ran unopposed and was re-elected in November 2012, so no sheriff’s election is scheduled until 2016.

Metts is the longest-serving sheriff in South Carolina. If he serves until 2016, he will set a state record for length of time as sheriff.

Until 2016, there is no official race and, therefore, no official campaign filings.

“There’s nothing we can do until the spring of 2016 when filings open,” said Dean Crepes, director of the county Commission of Registration and Elections. “There can be rumors and people talking but you know how that goes.”

Reach Phillips at (803) 771-8307.

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