Mexican restaurateur Greg Leon’s luck ran out on Wednesday when a federal judge sentenced him to six months in prison for violating probation.
In the last year, Leon, 50, of Lexington County, had dodged two prison sentences by first getting probation on state charges of bribing a public official, and then on a separate federal charge of employing some 60 illegal aliens at his Midlands chain of seven Mexican restaurants.
But under the terms of his federal sentence, handed down in January, Leon could go to prison for up to six months if he violated state or federal laws.
Last Feb. 14, just 19 days after federal Judge Joe Anderson gave him probation and a $180,000 fine for hiring illegal aliens, Leon allegedly shot and killed his wife’s lover, who was with his wife, Rachel, in the back seat of a Toyota Tundra pickup truck, according to an arrest warrant charging Leon with murder in that case.
“You violated probation in a significant way,” Anderson told Leon at Wednesday’s hearing, reading some of the allegations on the arrest warrant, which included Leon’s statement to the 911 operator: “I shot my wife’s lover.”
Because Leon’s probation offense of employing illegal aliens was a misdemeanor, Anderson said he was limited to giving Leon up to six months. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Richardson asked for that maximum.
Leon’s two attorneys, Eric Bland and Dick Harpootlian, asked Anderson not to have Leon taken into custody immediately and let their client report to prison in a month or so, after the Bureau of Prisons locates a spot. That way, Leon can get his restaurant finances in order and prepare for several ongoing restaurant-related lawsuits against him in state civil court, his attorneys said.
After Richardson said he didn’t oppose giving Leon some time before prison, Anderson agreed.
Leon has been free on $500,000 secured bond while awaiting trial on the murder charges. He is on house arrest, living at his parents’ home, and is allowed to leave only to work at his restaurants and go to church. He also wears an electronic ankle monitor.
Leon, his voice choking back a sob, told the judge, “I’m sorry. I ask for mercy.”
Noting the seriousness of the probation violation, Anderson said he wished he could give Leon more than six months in prison. “If I had the authority to go higher, I would definitely go higher.”
Leon provided key information that led to the 2014 guilty plea of former Lexington County sheriff Jimmy Metts on a federal felony charge of conspiring to harbor illegal immigrants. Leon admitted he gave a middleman money to deliver bribes to Metts to release restaurant workers who had been arrested for being in the country illegally.