Former South Congaree police chief Jason Amodio pleaded guilty to perjury in federal court Thursday morning before U.S. Judge Joseph Anderson.
Anderson accepted the plea and will sentence Amodio, 46, at a later date. Prosecutors are recommending Amodio receive eight months’ house arrest with electronic monitoring, as well as four years’ probation.
Amodio agreed to plead guilty earlier this year to lying to a federal grand jury, which is a felony. Court proceedings Thursday and records revealed that the charge was related to Amodio’s acceptance of a questionable $9,000 payment from a Lexington County lawyer for referring a client to the lawyer following a traffic accident. A check for that amount was paid to Amodio through an intermediary.
Amodio told the grand jury in 2012 that the check was a loan from the lawyer. Amodio was not charged with taking money but lying to the grand jury about the money he took.
U.S. Attorney Jay Richardson told Anderson that the traffic case concerned a 2011 crash that resulted in the death of one family member and injured another but did not otherwise give specifics of the wreck. The crash presumably took place in the South Congaree area, where Amodio was chief.
Richardson did not identify the attorney who funneled money to Amodio.
But a legal ethics expert said the lawyer may have run afoul of state laws concerning legal fees. Lawyers can potentially be subject to sanctions, including disbarment, if they kick back part of a fee to someone who referred a client to them.
“To the extent it is a pre-arranged plan, it’s a payoff and it’s improper,” said USC law professor emeritus of ethics USC School John Freeman.
As part of Thursday’s plea deal, Amodio also agreed to plead guilty to the charge of misconduct in office in state court at a later time. That charge of misconduct is related to Amodio’s taking money from former Lexington Town Council member Danny Frazier in connection with providing him with illegal, confiscated gaming devices, according to court records.
“That is part of our plea agreement, too,” Richardson told Anderson.
Federal court records say Amodio is cooperating with authorities. By pleading guilty, he avoids being exposed to a maximum five-year prison sentence and $250,000 fine.
Amodio told the judge he has for several years been undergoing treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. The judge asked him about it to help determine whether Amodio was competent to enter a plea. No further details were discussed.
“Pronounce your last name for me,” Anderson told Amodio. “I always hate to mispronounce someone’s name.”
Amodio replied, “AM-uh-DE-o.”
The charges against Amodio came during a joint federal-state public corruption probe that produced charges so far against three Lexington County residents – including former sheriff James Metts – as well as a restauranteur and a former Richland County deputy-turned-online-gaming businessman.
Agents from SLED and the FBI were also at Amodio’s hearing, as well as three lawyers from the S.C. Attorney General’s office.
Amodio was police chief in the town of 2,300 residents near Columbia Metropolitan Airport for 11 years.
He quit the post in May 2013, citing unspecified personal and family reasons. At that time, the state-federal probe was in full swing.
Amodio’s resignation followed a raid on Town Hall by FBI and SLED agents in which unspecified items were seized.
Amodio was a West Columbia police officer before going to South Congaree as second-in-command of its police department in 2011, becoming chief 15 months later.
Amodio had no comment as he left court with his lawyer, Ken Matthews of Columbia.