More corruption charges foreseen as Lexington County probe continues

tflach@thestate.comJune 19, 2014 

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More charges of corruption and misconduct among Lexington County officials appear likely, some community and political leaders said Thursday.

“I fully expect more to come,” Lexington Mayor Steve MacDougall said, declining to be specific.

His prediction follows the federal indictment of now-suspended Sheriff James Metts, accused of accepting bribes in return for using his influence to interfere with the identification and processing of illegal immigrants detained at the county jail. Three others were indicted by the State Grand Jury: former Town Councilman Danny Frazier, former South Congaree Police Chief Jason Amodio and restaurateur Greg Leon.

Some of the alleged “preferential treatment” of the immigrants under Metts occurred through contact with unidentified “command staff” and officers, the 10-count indictment says.

“I think it’s just a start,” MacDougall said.

Other political leaders echoed that sentiment.

“I think there’s more to come,” State Sen. Katrina Shealy of Red Bank said. “I don’t think that (treatment of illegal immigrants) is the only issue.”

County Council chairman Johnny Jeffcoat added, “I hear rumors there’s more to come.”

Those forecasts came after a statement from S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson’s office that a joint federal-state investigation into misconduct among public officials continues.

Meanwhile, new Sheriff Lewis McCarty added two law enforcement veterans to the top ranks of the department as a shakeup of its command resumed.

Retired deputy Butch Reynoldsis returning as McCarty’s aide for administration, while former Columbia police officer Carl Young will oversee daily operations, according to county officials briefed on staff changes.

The new management team replaces some of four former Metts appointees.

McCarty “is not planning on making any statements on personnel changes to the media in the foreseeable future,” sheriff’s spokesman Erik Murrah said Thursday.

West Columbia Police Chief Dennis Tyndall is stunned that accusations made against Metts by federal prosecutors involved illegal immigrants city officers brought there in 2011.

The charge is based on allowing four people brought in by West Columbia police to return to work, after Metts allegedly received bribes from Leon sometimes relayed through Frazier, the indictment says.

There was never any hint of the allegedly improper releases, Tyndall said, adding the four were discovered during stops for traffic violations.

“I’m surprised, trying to figure it out,” he said.

Frazier was hired by Metts as a part-time consultant in spring 2012, but that role ended a few months later after a furor over the former councilman’s effort to assist groups interested in bringing in online gambling operations that some law enforcement officials called illegal. No one was hired to replace Frazier.

Metts is scheduled to appear in court at 10 a.m. July 1 for arraignment on federal charges of accepting bribes and abuse of his office.

Bond for him is expected to be set at the hearing before U.S. Magistrate Shiva Hodges, according to officials at the clerk of court's office.

No proceedings are scheduled yet for Frazier and Leon, according to James Parks, clerk of court for the State Grand Jury. Both face state charges of bribing Metts, so illegal immigrants taken into custody could return to their jobs at Leon’s restaurants.

No hearing also has been set for Jason Amodio on state charges of accepting payments in exchange for illegal gaming machines, Parks said. Frazier also is charged with making those payments.

Frazier – who is cooperating with investigators, his lawyer says – can continue building a home on Lake Murray while the assets of others accused remain under their control while charges are pending, prosecutors said. But Metts’ suspension means he can no longer function as a law enforcement officer.

Reach Flach at (803) 771-8483

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