March 27, 2015

30 months in prison for ex-Williamsburg County sheriff (AUDIO)

 Former Williamsburg County Sheriff Michael Johnson.

Former Williamsburg County Sheriff Michael Johnson smiles at his family outside the courthouse during a break in Wednesday’s hearing.

A federal judge on Wednesday sentenced former Williamsburg County Sheriff Michael Johnson to two-and-a-half years in prison after his conviction on fraud-related charges last year.

Meanwhile, a Columbia businessman accused of leading the scheme was sentenced to 33 months. Both men were given punishments on the lower end of the sentencing spectrum. Judge Terry Wooten said, while Johnson had no previous criminal record, the conviction for conspiracy to commit wire fraud was a “serious offense” and warranted the 30-month sentence.

Prosecutors accused Johnson of filing at least 245 false police reports over an 18-month period to help customers of credit repair firm FIG Investments, LLC. The incident reports made it appear that FIG Investment customers had been the victims of identity theft, leading the credit rating bureau Equifax to improve those “victims'” credit scores.

A jury found Johnson guilty for his role last September.

FIG Investments owner Lester Woods was given a longer sentence partly due to a 20-year-old drug conviction and because Judge Wooten ruled he may have misled the jury during his September trial. Both men will also have to repay $15,875 each and will get three years supervision after their release from prison.

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Former Pee Dee sheriff seeking lesser sentence on conspiracy charge

Former WIlliamsburg County sheriff Michael Johnson (Image Williamsburg County Sheriff's Office)

Former WIlliamsburg County sheriff Michael Johnson (Image: Williamsburg County)

The now-former sheriff of Williamsburg County is asking a federal judge for a reduced sentence after his fraud conviction, with his attorney arguing that Michael Johnson has no previous criminal record and suffers from depression.

Johnson is facing up to three years in prison after a federal jury convicted him of conspiracy to commit wire fraud last year. Prosecutors said the Williamsburg County sheriff compiled false identity theft reports to benefit a Columbia credit repair business FIG Investments, LLC. The owner of that business Lester Woods is also scheduled to be sentenced on Wednesday.

An indictment claimed Woods would get credit agencies to improve his clients’ credit scores by asking Johnson to write 130 phony police reports that made it appear the individuals had their identities stolen. Prosecutors never said how Johnson was compensated for his actions, if at all.

Court records show that Johnson’s attorney Debbie Barbier has requested leniency, asking the former sheriff be sentenced to less than the 30-37 months recommended by prosecutors. Barbier argued her client has no previous criminal record and cooperated with investigators.

Johnson’s attorney also wrote in court documents that Johnson suffers from both depression and anxiety.

District Court Judge Terry Wooten will preside over Wednesday’s hearing, scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. at the Matthew Perry Federal Courthouse in Columbia.

Johnson was elected as sheriff of the rural Pee Dee county in 2010. Gov. Nikki Haley suspended him from office in February after a federal grand jury handed down the conspiracy charge.

Senate panel advances bill to keep secret sellers of execution drugs

Corrections Director Bryan Stirling

Corrections Director Bryan Stirling

South Carolina has not executed an inmate in nearly four years, as the state has run out of a drug it uses for lethal injections and cannot get any more.

Department of Corrections director Bryan Stirling said pharmaceutical companies — worried about public backlash — have stopped selling execution drugs like pentobarbital to states. The European Union has also barred any corporations headquartered there from selling any drugs to entities and governments that plan to use them in capital punishment.

The agency has previously said South Carolina’s supply of pentobarbital, a critical drug used in the execution process, expired in 2013. The state has not been able to acquire a new supply since that time, Stirling said.

“(Suppliers) may be afraid of protests or things of that nature,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “So, therefore, they’re deciding not to sell it if they know their name could get out into the public.”

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Former Bishopville charter school director found guilty of embezzlement

A federal jury on Thursday said they found the director of a Lee County charter school guilty on two counts of embezzlement.

Prosecutors said 40-year-old Benita Dinkins-Robinson diverted more than $1 million in federal funds that should have gone towards the Mary Dinkins Academy of Higher Learning that she operated in Bishopville and Sumter.

The Dinkins Academy operated in Lee County from 2007 until 2012, when its charter was revoked by the South Carolina Public Charter School District. The district also asked the State Law Enforcement Division to investigate reports of fraud. The FBI later took over the investigation. But the school reopened without the state blessing in a Sumter church as a countersuit made its way through the court system. A judge ordered it closed for good in March 2013.

Court documents shows Dinkins-Robinson was able to obtain at least $1.4 million in Department of Agriculture student lunch funds and Department of Education monies. Prosecutors say she converted the funds for her own personal use. Dinkins-Robinson has maintained her innocence, saying she was only acting in the students’ best interests.

The jury also determined that Dinkins-Robinson must forfeit over $750,000 in annuities she purchased while serving as the school’s executive director of the charter school. She must also forfeit her share in a Camden house that she owns.

Judge Terry Wooten will sentence Dinkins-Robinson at a later date. She faces up to 10 years for each count.

Former South Congaree police chief admits lying to grand jury

Former South Congaree police chief Jason Amodio (at right) leaves the federal courthouse in Columbia after entering the plea on Thursday

Former South Congaree police chief Jason Amodio (at right) leaves the federal courthouse in Columbia after entering the plea on Thursday

A former police chief in Lexington County has pleaded guilty to lying in front of a grand jury, the latest chapter in ongoing corruption trials involving the county’s law enforcement.

Former South Congaree police chief Jason Amodio pleaded guilty to a perjury charge Thursday morning. The plea agreement reached with federal prosecutors would set an agreed-upon sentence of eight months home confinement, plus four years probation. District Judge Joe Anderson accepted the sentence.

“Mr. Amodio went before the federal grand jury, swore on the Bible to tell the truth, and lied; that is a crime,” said U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles said in a statement. “This is another joint investigation… to prosecute public corruption on all levels.”

Amodio still faces a misconduct in office charge from South Carolina. As part of the plea agreement reached last June, he will also plead guilty to that count. An official with the state Attorney Generals Office said Thursday they are preparing to advance that case once Judge Anderson sentences Amodio.

The police chief was one of the four individuals indicted the same day as Lexington County Sheriff James Metts in June 2014. Also charged were then-Lexington Town Councilman Danny Frazier and Midlands restaurant chain owner Gregorio Leon. Ex-Sheriff Metts pleaded guilty late last year to a conspiracy charge after federal prosecutors said he improperly released several detained illegal aliens who worked for Leon. Charges are still pending against Leon and Frazier.

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