Crime & Courts

Informant whose ‘flip’ helped lead to ex-Sheriff Metts’ prison term avoids prison

In the world of prosecutors, you “flip” a defendant by allowing him to plead guilty to a lesser charge with a lesser punishment if he agrees to “roll” and give evidence against a bigger target.

And earlier this week, a small-fry defendant who “flipped” and “rolled” got his reward for giving federal agents information that eventually led to the indictment, conviction and resignation of ex-Lexington County Sheriff Jimmy Metts, at the time the state’s longest-serving sheriff.

Troy Mims, 42, of Sumter, a former video poker operator, received the lenient sentence of no prison and a $25,000 fine for the misdemeanor offense of willfully failing to pay employment taxes for his employees. In exchange for his cooperation with law enforcement, other more serious charges that could have exposed Mims to years in prison were dismissed.

Mims was so low-profile that his 2018 indictment — the first ever criminal charges against him — for failing to pay employment taxes and running an illegal gambling business didn’t make much news.

At Monday’s hearing, a federal prosecutor revealed publicly the significance of information that Mims gave federal agents, information that would help nail Metts, who in 2016 was sentenced to a year and a day in prison by U.S. Judge Terry Wooten on a federal charge of harboring illegal immigrants. That charge was connected to evidence that Metts took money to let undocumented Mexican workers out of his jail.

Mims didn’t have any direct evidence against Metts.

But Mims did have evidence on Larry Flynn, another big-league Midlands criminal and video poker operator whose illegal gambling empire was generating millions he wasn’t paying taxes on, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ben Garner told U.S. Judge Joe Anderson on Monday.

Mims’ information helped prosecutors

Back in 2014, before he was indicted by a S.C. federal grand jury, Flynn had a good reputation. He had worked for 15 years as an investigator in the 5th Circuit Solicitor’s Office in Columbia. He also was a would-be politician, running for and losing races for secretary of state in 2006 and sheriff of Kershaw County in 2010.

With the help of Mims, prosecutors secured a guilty plea against Flynn in August 2015 on federal charges of operating an illegal gambling business and tax evasion.

And even before his guilty plea, while under investigation by federal agents, Flynn had begun to “roll,” or inform, on Metts in hopes of getting a light sentence.

Flynn’s role in helping prosecutors win a conviction against Metts was spelled out in Feb. 2016 at a court hearing in Columbia. Then, a federal prosecutor explained to U.S. Judge Joe Anderson that Flynn “did provide substantial assistance in the investigation and prosecution of former Sheriff James Metts,” according to a transcript of the hearing.

What Flynn gave the government “was the ability to rebut any kind of good character defense that former Sheriff Metts may have put out there” had Metts gone to trial, May told the judge, according to the transcript.

May elaborated only slightly, telling the judge only that Flynn “provided information of nefarious things that he knew former Sheriff Metts was doing, because he (Flynn) was involved.” (Nefarious means “wicked” or “detestable.”)

At Flynn’s 2016 hearing, Judge Anderson sentenced Flynn to 15 months in prison and to pay a $251,000 in restitution for income tax evasion and for failure to pay income taxes on $2 million worth of income for two years. Flynn was also convicted of operating an illegal gambling business. Other charges were dropped.

Jim Griffin, a Columbia defense attorney who represented Mims this week, told The State, “Troy Mims didn’t know anything about Sheriff Metts. The cooperation Mr. Mims was given credit for related to Larry ‘L.W.’ Flynn.”

Prosecutors did not explain why it took so long to dispose of the charges against Mims.

(Editor’s note: This story has been updated and corrected to clarify that former Sheriff Metts was not the longest-serving sheriff ever in S.C. History. When Metts pleaded guilty and resigned, in December, 2014, after serving 42 years in office, he was the longest-serving active sheriff at that time. Another sheriff, Sheriff David Stone of Pickens County, is the longest-serving sheriff in S.C. history. He served from 1969 to 2013 -- 44 years, according to the S.C. Sheriff’s Association. )