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Lexington restaurateur charged with murder after Sunday night shooting

VIDEO: Valentine's Day Shooting In Lexington

Police say 49-year-old Gregorio Leon, who owns several Mexican restaurants in South Carolina, shot and killed a man Sunday night at this Park and Ride in Lexington.
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Police say 49-year-old Gregorio Leon, who owns several Mexican restaurants in South Carolina, shot and killed a man Sunday night at this Park and Ride in Lexington.

Greg Leon, the owner of several Mexican restaurants in South Carolina, has been charged with killing a man at a Lexington commuter parking lot Sunday night, according to arrest warrants.

“I shot my wife’s lover,” Leon said on a recorded 911 line, according to the warrants.

Police charged Leon with murder in the killing of Arturo Pereyra Bravo at the somewhat secluded lot at 110 Riverchase Way in the town of Lexington. Bravo was killed about 8:30 p.m., according to the warrants.

Leon not only notified police on the 911 line of the shooting, he surrendered to Lexington police later Sunday night. One of his attorneys, Eric Bland, was with him when he surrendered.

The Valentine’s Day shooting was captured on a video surveillance camera at the parking lot, a warrant said. The site is just off I-20, about a one-third mile from U.S. 378.

A warrant in the case identified the shooting victim as Bravo. As of late Monday afternoon, the Lexington County coroner’s office had not officially identified the dead man.

Bravo, who was in the rear seat of a Toyota Tundra pickup truck, was shot with a handgun, and “multiple bullets” struck him, a warrant said. Leon’s wife, Maria Rachel Leon, was in the back seat with Bravo but “none of the bullets fired struck Ms. Leon,” a warrant said.

No bond was set Monday for Leon, who made a brief appearance in jail clothing before a Lexington County magistrate at the county jail courtroom.

Leon faces four charges: murder, the attempted murder of his wife, discharging a firearm into an occupied vehicle, and possession of a weapon during a violent crime.

Dick Harpootlian, one of Leon’s attorneys, said Monday that a hearing before a circuit judge will likely be held later this week.

Bravo’s body was found on the ground between two vehicles, according to the Lexington Police Department. Officers from that department reached the scene at 8:37 p.m., according to a news release.

Detectives from the police department worked with the Lexington County Coroner’s Office and the State Law Enforcement Division in the investigation.

Officials do not expect more charges, unless the investigation turns up new offenses, according to Cpl. Cameron Mortenson, public information officer for Lexington police.

Leon has been a well-known South Carolina businessmen for years. A feature article in a Midlands magazine in September described him as “a people person who doesn’t mind the 12-hour days needed to get it all done.” He has owned up to eight restaurants, including six San Jose and two Pancho eateries. He lives on a 30-acre spread in Lexington County and raises Andalusian and Friesian horses.

But Leon had secrets. He admitted paying bribes and employing illegal aliens. And he was a target of the joint state-federal investigation that led to the guilty plea last year of former Lexington County Sheriff James Metts in federal court.

In October, in state court in Orangeburg, Leon pleaded guilty before Circuit Court Judge Lawton McIntosh to a charge of paying bribes that went to Metts in return for getting illegal Mexican workers out of Metts’ county jail. The illegal Mexican workers had been employed by Leon at his restaurants.

McIntosh sentenced Leon to 200 hours of community service for those crimes. Prosecutors recommended that Leon not be given prison because his evidence had led to Metts’ guilty plea.

In November, Leon pleaded guilty again, this time in federal court before Judge Joe Anderson for employing 60 workers from Mexico who were in the country illegally.

In January, Anderson fined Leon $180,000 and gave him a year’s probation. At the hearing, Anderson cited Leon’s cooperation with prosecutors in the Metts case as a reason for not giving Leon a prison sentence.

However, Anderson also put Leon on probation for a year, and a condition of probation is that – as a convicted criminal – he not possess a gun or ammunition.

People who break conditions of probation are subject to being sent to prison.

U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles said Monday he had no comment on Leon’s status except to note that federal authorities are aware that Leon has been arrested and charged with a violent crime.

Leon, who was born in Mexico, is a naturalized citizen. He has been a “model citizen” who came to America with little and ended up owning eight restaurants with more than 150 employees, Bland — Leon’s attorney — told Circuit Court Judge Lawton McIntosh last October.

“He’s an incredibly hard worker, a very religious man and a very charitable man. He supports five impoverished families in Lexington County; he sends back thousands and thousands of dollars to the town where he grew up, in San Jose de la Paz, in Mexico,” Bland said at that hearing. “And he’s a big supporter of the Gamecocks.”

At that hearing, Leon told McIntosh he was born in Mexico, has eight children and four grandchildren.

Bland said Leon “values his citizenship. I just think this was an aberrant period of time in his career as a citizen and as a businessman. I don’t think it will happen again.”

On Monday, Leon’s 41-year-old brother, Jose Leon, said he learned about the shooting after seeing it on the news. He said he met with his older brother last week and it didn’t seem like anything was wrong.

Metts, who pleaded guilty to harboring illegal aliens, is serving a year-long prison sentence at Butner Federal Correctional Institution in North Carolina. He is scheduled to be released on May 1, according to the Bureau of Prisons Internet site.

In 2012, Leon and two family members agreed to pay 37 employees $390,960 in back wages following an investigation by federal labor officials that found overtime, minimum wage and record-keeping violations at four restaurants.

Glen Luke Flanagan: 803-771-8305, @glenlflanagan

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