The race for sheriff in Oconee County took a bizarre turn Wednesday with the arrest of Republican candidate James Bartee for trying to hire someone to kidnap a retired S.C. circuit judge. Bartee is one of four candidates competing June 12 to be the Republican nominee in November for Oconee County sheriff.
The former Secret Service agent’s qualification for the office was challenged by retired S.C. Circuit Judge James C. Williams Jr. Williams had sued to get Bartee off the ballot, arguing Bartee is not a “certified law enforcement officer” under S.C. law and therefore can't run for sheriff. A court hearing was to have been held Wednesday on the case in Anderson. The hearing was under way when Bartee was arrested by State Law Enforcement Division agents at the courthouse, according to The Independent Mail of Anderson.
Bartee was charged with “solicitation to commit a felony.” According to the arrest warrant, Bartee tried to “encourage and solicit an individual” to kidnap Williams. He allegedly gave that individual money to purchase items needed in the kidnapping. SLED said evidence includes audio of the solicitation.
Bartee's campaign website touts his 25 years as an agent with the U.S. Secret Service. He retired in 2000 after stints with the Presidential Protection Division during the George Bush Sr. and Clinton administrations, the site says.
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Under a section titled “Questions and Concerns,” Bartee has posted a letter purportedly from the general counsel of the S.C. Criminal Justice Academy that spells out how former federal law enforcement officers “in almost all cases can become certified in South Carolina” as required by law. Candidates can’t receive the training until they are employed by a law enforcement agency in the state, the letter states.
Bartee posted the following on his FaceBook page:
James Bartee wants all to know that he is legally on the ballot and deserves to be on the ballot. He was certified in 1983 when he graduated from two of the finest law enforcement academies in the world, the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in Glynco, GA and the US Secret Service Academy in Washington, DC and Beltsville, MD.
Bartee, who has lived in Oconee County since 2000, owns a private investigator business and a martial arts studio. He announced his candidacy for sheriff in September 2011.
Bartee was being held in the Anderson County Detention Center Wednesday night.