Three former Orangeburg law officers, fooled by the FBI into thinking they were taking money from a fake drug-running Mexican cartel, have pleaded guilty to various criminal charges connected to the sting.
Evidence gathered by the FBI in putting together the case involved wiretaps, covert videos and an undercover agent posing as a member of a fake Mexican drug-trafficking cartel, assistant U.S. Attorney Will Lewis told Judge Joe Anderson on Tuesday.
“They were engaged in a conspiracy to protect what they believed were drug traffickers,” Lewis said.
In the FBI’s sting, an agent posing as a member of a purported Mexican cartel who called himself “Jamie” told the officers that the cartel’s trucks would be traveling south through Orangeburg County on Interstate 26 with loads of money from selling drugs and then back again traveling north with loads of drugs, according to evidence in the case.
In the conspiracy, the Orangeburg officers — wearing their uniforms and using patrol cars — agreed to be paid to “guard” the fake truckloads of cash and drugs during the trucks’ layovers near an interstate exit. Officers stood watch to keep the fake cartel trucks from harm, according to evidence in the case.
The three who pleaded guilty Tuesday will be sentenced at a later date. They were:
▪ Allan Hunter, 51, a former police officer in the town of Springfield in western Orangeburg County, to numerous charges connected with taking bribes to protect the fake cartel’s drug-trafficking operations. Hunter also pleaded guilty to using his position as a law officer to help undocumented immigrants illegally stay in the United States. He is represented by state Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, and could face a maximum of 20 years.
▪ Nathaniel Shazier III, 29, a former Orangeburg County sheriff’s deputy, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to guard the fake cartel’s trucks. He is represented by Columbia attorney Stanley Myers. He could get a maximum of 20 years.
▪ Stanley Timmons, 44, a former Orangeburg County sheriff’s deputy, pleaded guilty to being part of a conspiracy to guard the fake cartel’s trucks. He is represented by Columbia attorney Jerry Finney. He could get a maximum of five years.
Four other officers arrested in the sting have pending cases.
The FBI’s sting operation began as an investigation into a fraudulent visa-selling scheme run out of the Orangeburg County sheriff’s department.
Under a special program, immigrants without permission to stay in the United States who are victims of crimes, or who are willing to help law enforcement, can apply for special visas, called U-Visas. Once granted, these special visas allow an immigrant to stay in the United States for four years.
Rogue deputies in the Orangeburg County sheriff’s department created counterfeit incident reports saying that certain foreigners were victims of crimes, according to evidence in the case.
Hunter was involved in the original scheme to concoct fake incident reports, and at some point, he began to recruit other law officers to guard the fake cartel trucks, according to an indictment in the case.
The FBI is, among other things, known for its creative sting operations. In 2017, an FBI agent posed as an Eastern bloc arms dealer operating on the Internet who pretended to ship a bomb to an address provided by a South Carolina prison inmate. The inmate and his accomplices were charged and sentenced to federal prison.