Crime & Courts

Other SC sheriffs in trouble

From Fairfield County Sheriff Bubba Montgomery, who was convicted in 1992 of using prisoners to work on his lake home, to Williamsburg County Sheriff Theo McFarlin, sent to prison on cocaine charges in 1998, some sheriffs have made the wrong kinds of headlines.

James Metts is the seventh sheriff in South Carolina’s 46 counties to face criminal charges in the past four years. An eighth sheriff died of a heart attack as an investigation into his finances was wrapping up.

Jeff Moore, head of the South Carolina Sheriffs’ Association for 32 years, has said that about 35 sheriffs run county jails, and that’s where a lot of problems come in. Under a state program, sheriffs can get skilled convicts to come back to their counties and put them to work on public property.

“It can save a county literally hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. It’s free labor. But you can’t take them home or have them work on your pickup,” Moore said.

More recently:

• In September, a federal jury found suspended Williamsburg County Sheriff Michael Johnson and a Columbia businessman guilty of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Prosecutors said Johnson created fake police reports so customers of the man’s credit-repair business could claim their overdue bills were caused by identity fraud. The two have not been sentenced. Each faces up to 20 years in prison.

• In April, Sam Parker of Chesterfield County was found guilty and given two years in prison and three years’ probation for letting inmates have unsupervised visits with women and sleeping outside the jail with access to TV and alcohol. He was charged with four counts of misconduct in office and two counts of furnishing contraband to inmates.

• In January 2013, Abbeville County Sheriff Charles Goodwin pleaded guilty to misconduct in office for receiving kickbacks from county funds paid to a local auto body shop and for using a state prison inmate to do work on his personal vehicles and property. He resigned from office, got probation, 100 hours of community service and had to pay $4,445 in restitution.

• Then-sheriff Jason Booth pleaded guilty in 2012 to misconduct in office for misusing state prison inmates who were at his Saluda County jail. Evidence in the case said Booth used a convicted methamphetamine trafficker to dig a pond and construct a shed on Booth’s private property. In return, the inmate was allowed to leave the detention center, have conjugal visits with his girlfriend, have use of an SUV and attend parties on Booth’s property. He received a $1,000 fine and five years’ probation.

• Sheriff Larry Williams in Orangeburg County died in 2010. In 2012, investigators revealed he had apparently stolen some $200,000 in county money, taking reimbursements from state and federal sources and spreading it around to 11 different bank accounts, according to a lawsuit Orangeburg County filed against his estate. The county last year received $35,000 each from the fiancee of Williams and the credit union where she worked, but the two did not admit they did anything wrong.

• Former Lee County Sheriff E.J. Melvin was sent to prison in 2011 for taking bribes from alleged drug dealers. He was sentenced to 17 years after being convicted on 38 charges of drug conspiracy and racketeering.

• In September 2010, former Union County Sheriff Howard Wells was sentenced to 90 days in prison for loaning money to an informant for exorbitant fees, not reporting the earnings and lying to federal agents. Wells became well known during the arrest and trial of Susan Smith, who is serving time for killing her two young boys 20 years ago.