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7 SC law enforcement officers charged with taking bribes

March 29, 2019 GMT

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Seven law enforcement officers in South Carolina have been charged with taking bribes to protect drug traffickers and to create false police incident reports so people could get visas meant for crime victims.

Five of the arrested officers were deputies with the Orangeburg County Sheriff’s Office. Springfield Police Chief Lacra Sharod Jenkins and one of that department’s officers were also arrested, along with two other people.

Federal, state and local law enforcement officials announced the arrests Friday at a news conference in Columbia.

“The law enforcement officers that you see standing here today want the citizens of South Carolina to know that we will not tolerate the hypocrisy of those who pretend to enforce the law while violating it themselves all to line their pockets,” U.S. Attorney Sherri Lydon said. “We call that public corruption and we will always call that out.”

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The accused deputies have been fired, Orangeburg County Sherriff Leroy Ravenell said. The sheriff also apologized to members of law enforcement and his community.

“I stand angry — no, mad as hell — and extremely, extremely disappointed in the alleged actions of these individuals,” Ravenell said. “If these individuals are proven to be guilty, not only did they lie to you, the public, they lied to me.”

The status of the arrested chief and officer from Springfield were not immediately clear.

Allegations in the 13 count indictment include officers obtaining fraudulent U-Visas by taking bribes for fraudulent certifications in creating false incident reports indicating that the undocumented immigrant was a victim of crime.

To obtain a U-Visa, a law enforcement official must certify that the victim of the crime participated with the law enforcement agency in the investigation or prosecution of the crime they were a victim of, Lydon said.

Other allegations in the indictment said some of the officers received bribes in agreement to protect methamphetamine or cocaine or other proceeds of drug trafficking.

“The officers possessed firearms in the furtherance of the drug conspiracy,” Lydon said.

Officials said Homeland Security, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division and FBI agents worked together on the investigation.

“The actions described in these indictments demonstrate a clear betrayal of the people of Orangeburg County, this state and legitimate law enforcement officers who risk their lives every day,” said Jody Norris, the FBI’s special agent in charge in South Carolina.

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SLED provided assistance throughout the investigation, after SLED agents in 2017 uncovered allegations of misconduct that reached beyond the state lines, SLED Chief Mark Keel said.

“Public corruption, as has been said, is a serious matter. It is one that jeopardizes the very confidence and trust that the citizens of our state have in this profession,” Keel said. “SLED and our law enforcement partners will continue to utilize every tool we have available to investigate corruption like this.”

If convicted, six of the officers could face life in federal prison.