Six former Richland County Sheriff’s Department employees have been indicted on tax-related charges, according to the South Carolina Department of Revenue.
Vivian Belton, 43, Bobby Cohens, 32, Valarie Gibson, 43, Cedric Jacobs, 40, and Eddie Lee West, 29, were indicted by a grand jury Thursday on one count of making and assisting in a false tax return and one count of criminal conspiracy.
If convicted, each faces up to 10 years in prison.
All five were veteran employees of the department who allegedly went to another former employee, Maribel Crespo, to file false tax returns, according to the state Department of Revenue.
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Maribel Crespo, 39, has been indicted on 11 counts of making and assisting in a false tax return. If convicted, Crespo faces up to 55 years in prison.
Department of Revenue investigators along with the Office of the Attorney General have expanded the investigation beyond the individuals currently charged to determine if more people should be arrested.
The deputies served in positions that ranged from a school resource officer at Richland Northeast High to a road deputy and a plainclothes officer whose job was to capture fugitives from justice.
Crespo is a former sheriff’s department employee who worked in the warrant division.
Sheriff Leon Lott announced the scam and fired the five officers on Oct. 31.
Lott he said he was particularly galled that the officers knowingly turned to Crespo after she had been arrested by deputies in 2010 for identity theft and misconduct. Crespo pleaded guilty and was on probation when she filed some of the bogus tax returns at issue, Lott said.
Authorities learned of the tax fraud scheme while investigating a merchandise counterfeiting operation involving Crespo. She bragged to undercover buyers about filing fake income taxes for deputies, the sheriff said. A search of her Richland Northeast home also turned up fake federal ID cards and evidence of that she might have been impersonating an immigration lawyer, Lott said.