June 28, 2014

FBI took reports from Metts' office on family involved in gaming

When FBI agents searched the office of suspended Lexington County Sheriff James Metts, they took information on three family members associated with online gaming, a warrant authorizing the search shows.

When FBI agents searched the office of suspended Lexington County Sheriff James Metts, they took information on three family members associated with online gaming, a warrant authorizing the search shows.

Metts had been indicted a few days earlier for misconduct related to the handling of illegal immigrants who had been arrested.

Incident reports for three members of the Flynn family and a September 2012 memo of unknown origin on gaming enterprises were among 17 items that were taken from the sheriff’s headquarters in Lexington.

The revelation comes as Metts is due to make his first public appearance Tuesday since being charged June 17 with misconduct in office.

Metts is set to be arraigned before U.S. Magistrate Shiva Hodges on the 10-count federal indictment, the first step toward a trial that will determine the longtime sheriff’s guilt or innocence.

It’s unclear whether Mett’s likely brief arraignment will shed more light on the ongoing federal investigation.

Bond could be set at the hearing, possibly along with conditions such as restrictions on travel and possession of firearms. But those restrictions would be unusual for a longtime law enforcement official whom prosecutors don’t indicate is a danger to the community.

Metts is suspended without pay from the $117,399-a-year post he has held for nearly 42 years.

He denies the allegations and will fight the charges, his lawyers Scott Schools and Sherri Lydon have said.

Federal prosecutors say Metts received bribes in return for using his influence to interfere with the identification and processing of illegal immigrants detained at the county jail he oversaw.

Metts is alleged to have received bribes from restaurateur Greg Leon in 2011 that sometimes were passed along by former Lexington Town Councilman Danny Frazier.

A file with unspecified material related to the custody of such immigrants is among items taken June 20 from the sheriff’s headquarters, according to the federal search warrant for the offices.

Sheriff’s department incident reports involving three members of the Flynn family also were taken for reasons that federal officials have not explained.

Those reports concern brothers Gregg and Ronald Flynn and Brinton Motley, identified as their cousin in one report. Their names were listed as being on incident reports removed, according to an inventory of what the FBI agents took from the offices.

It’s unclear which of five incident reports obtained by The State newspaper and involving the three men between August 2011 and September 2013 were taken by the FBI, or whether all of them were, officials said.

The sheriff’s department, saying it didn’t know which the federal agents had removed, gave The State newspaper copies of all five reports when a reporter inquired.

“We do not have copies of the records removed nor was the receipt sufficiently specific to identify particular reports,” said Rich Roberson, lawyer for the sheriff’s department.

The names on the reports are familiar to some in Richland and Lexington counties.

Motley was arrested in September 2013 after 53 illegal gambling devices were seized from a commercial building near Swansea.

Another report on the theft of four sweepstakes machines in January 2012 from a convenience store near West Columbia says that Gregg Flynn talked with Metts by telephone about the investigation.

The other three reports concern thefts of personal property and two gaming machines from another convenience store near Lexington.

Ronald Flynn said he was surprised to learn what federal agents removed. “I don’t know anything about it,” he told The State newspaper. He said he had not been interviewed by the FBI.

Gregg Flynn and Motley could not be reached for comment.

The Flynns have a younger relative, Larry “L.W.” Flynn, 39. A federal grand jury indicted Larry Flynn on June 11 – less than a week before Metts’ indictment became public – on charges of operating an illegal gambling business and conspiracy to commit money laundering in connection with his Magic Minutes gaming business.

Each of the three Flynns once were Richland County deputies – Gregg and Ronald under former Sheriff Allen Sloan.

FBI agents also took a folder from Metts’ headquarters that the warrant described as his 2012 campaign notes.

Metts returned at least $4,500 in campaign contributions in 2012 to people and businesses with ties to sweepstakes operations.

Those donations were returned after The State newspaper in August 2012 showed him a county magistrate’s ruling that such equipment was illegal.

Material that might explain the need for what was taken in the search is sealed by court order after prosecutors said its disclosure would jeopardize the ongoing investigation.

Meanwhile, two days after Metts is arraigned, Leon and Frazier are set for arraignment at the Richland County Judicial Center on charges of bribery brought by the State Grand Jury.

The pair will appear along with former South Congaree Police Chief Jason Amodio, who is accused of accepting payments from Frazier in exchange for the return of illegal gaming machines seized by town police.

Frazier’s relatives were in the video poker industry in the 1990s, before such gambling was banned.

The charges against the four are the first in an at least two-year federal and state investigation that South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson’s office says is not over.

That probe began after Frazier was secretly recorded offering advice on ways for online gambling interests to set up shop without problems in the Midlands. His remarks later were given to news outlets.

His comments set off a public firestorm as video gambling operators sought to establish a foothold in the area through what they saw as a loophole in a state ban that the Legislature closed in 2013.

Frazier now is cooperating with investigators, his lawyer, Jim Griffin, has said.

Prosecutors have made no move to keep material related to Frazier, Leon and Amodio secret since most of a State Grand Jury’s investigation automatically remains confidential in South Carolina.

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