Former Lexington town council member Danny Frazier was the key government informant who provided information to federal and state prosecutors that led to former Lexington County Sheriff James Metts pleading guilty to allowing the release of illegal immigrants from his jail.
For the first time, state and federal prosecutors on Thursday disclosed Frazier’s key role in helping the government bring charges not only against Metts, but also against two other men with whom Frazier was involved in committing crimes in the shadowy world of Lexington County public corruption.
And Thursday, all three – Frazier, former South Congaree police chief Jason Amodio and restauranteur Greg Leon – pleaded guilty in state court, confessing to their various misdeeds and bringing to light new details about their crimes.
Most shocking might be that they committed crimes for only modest sums of money. Ex-sheriff Metts, for example, only got $500 for letting one undocumented Mexican out of jail, and Amodio only got $300, plus a $750 for a vacation rental in Myrtle Beach, for providing Frazier with confiscated, illegal video poker machines to sell.
Also, when Leon passed thousands of dollars to Frazier to give to Metts to let undocumented aliens who worked at his Mexican food restaurants out of jail, Frazier kept most of the money, assistant state attorney general Creighton Waters said.
“He (Leon) was unaware that Mr. Frazier was taking as big a cut as he did,” Waters said.
Leon “was unaware that Mr. Frazier was taking as big a cut as he did.”
Assistant state attorney general Creighton Waters
Assistant state attorney general Creighton Waters, as well as assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Richardson, also told the judge that all three defendants deserved light treatment in view of their important cooperation with law authorities and evidence they had provided, and were continuing to provide, in ongoing investigations.
Frazier volunteered key evidence and was “instrumental” in the Metts case, as well as against Leon and Amodio, prosecutors said.
“He (Frazier) has performed a great service – not that it takes away the conduct that he did, but it extremely mitigates the situation he is in,” Richardson told the judge.
Judge Lawton McIntosh sentenced:
▪ Amodio, 47, to eight months house arrest and four years probation for misconduct in office in connection with a scheme orchestrated by Frazier in which the two sold four video poker machines that had been confiscated by Amodio’s police department, then kept the profits. Amodio and Frazier created a bogus receipt from a junk yard saying they had had the machines destroyed, a prosecutor said. Amodio in July was sentenced to four years probation in federal court for lying to a federal grand jury.
▪ Frazier, 47, to 400 hours of community service, five years probation and a $10,000 fine after he pleaded guilty to misconduct in office involving bribery and ethics violations. Frazier’s attorney, Jim Griffin, told the judge that Frazier gave the initial information that led to the bribery conviction of Metts earlier this year. Without Frazier, there likely would have been no conviction of Metts, Griffin said.
▪ Leon, 49, to 200 hours of community service for paying bribes that went to Metts to get illegal Mexican workers out of Metts’ county jail. Leon’s lawyer, Dick Harpootlian, told the judge that Leon was ready to testify against Metts had the ex-sheriff not pleaded guilty.
Griffin told the judge that Frazier’s telling federal law officers about Metts’ and Amodio’s corruption has led to a “new culture” in Lexington County. “There’s a new sheriff in town,” Griffin said, “and there’s a new chief in South Congaree.” However, that cooperation has made Frazier “an outcast in Lexington County,” Griffin said.
Frazier was motivated to become an informant because he hoped that would get him a lighter sentence, Griffin, Frazier’s lawyer, said. In 2011, Frazier learned he was under possible federal criminal investigation involving gambling machines, and after consulting with an attorney, decided to volunteer information to the government about criminal activity he knew concerning Metts, Leon and Amodio.
Amodio was not involved in the Metts affair, his lawyer Ken Matthews told the judge. Amodio was police chief in the town of 2,300 residents near the Columbia Metropolitan Airport for 11 years. In May 2013, he suddenly resigned, citing unspecified personal and family reasons. His 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.
All appeared to show remorse.
What I did was wrong.”
Danny Frazier, gulping back tears
“When I walk down the street, and see people, and know what I used to be, and what I am now, it hurts,” Frazier, gulping back tears, told the judge. “What I did was wrong.”
Griffin told the judge his client had done numerous good things in Lexington, from working at charity events to bringing businesses to Lexington County.
Leon, a successful naturalized American citizen from Mexico who runs eight Mexican restaurants in Newberry, Richland, Lexington and Orangeburg counties, wept, telling the judge, “If I had known all this would have happened, I never would have done it.” A court clerk handed Leon a tissue to dry his tears.
Amodio said the least, keeping his head bowed for the most part, as he stood behind his lawyers, Kenneth and Foster Mathews, a father-son legal team.
State and federal law agencies involved in Thursday’s prosecution included SLED, the FBI, S.C. Department of Revenue and ICE.
WHAT METTS PLEADED GUILTY TO
Earlier this year, former sheriff James Metts pleaded guilty to a federal offense stemming from interference in the handling and inappropriate release of two illegal immigrants at the Lexington County jail in 2011.
Metts accepted money for OK’ing their release, prosecutors said. Bribery was one of the charges Metts initially faced, but not what he pleaded guilty to.
Metts was sentenced to 12 months and 1 day in federal prison.
In June, Metts began serving a 10-month prison sentence at Butner federal prison in North Carolina