Five Richland County Sheriff’s deputies have been arrested and fired after they were charged with fraud and tax evasion.
Sheriff Leon Lott announced the arrests Thursday of 48-year-old Vivian Belton, 32-year-old Bobby Cohens, 43-year-old Valerie Gibson, 40-year-old Cedric Jacobs, and 29-year-old Eddie West.
The sheriff said all five used fake dependent names on their returns in order to receive larger refunds from the Internal Revenue Service and South Carolina Department of Revenue. Lott said the investigation started with a different probe into Maribel Crespo, a former civilian employee in the department. He said investigators found Crespo was filing tax returns for the deputies and creating false identities for them to claim as dependents so they could get more money refunded.
The group fraudulently collected roughly $100,000 from state and federal tax refunds.
Crespo had been fired after her arrest in 2010 on identity theft fraud and misconduct in office charges that occurred while she worked with the county. Lott said Crespo had “bragged about the scheme to undercover officers. “That was the first tip,” he said. “And from there we just kept on going.”
He added that Crespo even “skimmed” money from the officers participating in the scheme. She is facing 13 counts of tax fraud, and has been given a $100,000 bond.
Lott apologized for the actions of his deputies. “Today’s one of those days you just want to scream and feel like you’re beating your head up against the wall when something like this happens,” he told reporters in a press conference.
Belton and Gibson both worked in the warrant division, while Cohens worked on fugitive cases and West was a road deputy. Jacobs was a school resource officer at Richland Northeast High School.