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Etowah County Ala. South Carolina's longest-serving sheriff was accused of lining his pockets by doing favors for friends.

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Pedestrians pass beneath the famous Reno arch as traffic passes on Virginia Street in downtown Reno, Nev. Source: Criminal Justice Chronicle, Provided by Richland County Sheriff's Office. Charleston County Sheriff Al Cannon speaks during the news conference about the opioid epidemic that has plagued the tri-county community in recent months on Thursday, Oct. South Carolina sheriffs dipped into public money to pay for luxury accommodations and broke McCormick South Carolina nude wives they swore to uphold, a Post and Courier investigation found. South Carolina sheriffs have embezzled, bribed and dipped into public funds for expensive chauffeurs.

While many South Carolina sheriffs have strong records of serving the public, others served themselves and their cronies, a five-month Post and Courier investigation found. The missing money was discovered only after the sheriff died. A judge sentenced the sheriff to two years. Now, The Post and Courier investigation has uncovered more cases of questionable spending and behavior. The newspaper requested spending records from all of the state's counties under the Freedom of Information Act.

Reporters sifted through more than 5, s of bank statements, receipts, lawsuits, campaign filings and IRS records. They interviewed former and current deputies and criminal justice experts. Among the findings: some sheriffs spent public money on luxury accommodations, personal clothing and a host of other questionable purchases. Chester County Sheriff Alex Underwood spent thousands to fly first class to conferences.

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott used thousands of dollars in campaign funds to a private club where members dine on beef tenderloin and rack of lamb.

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These and other examples point to larger systemic problems with sheriffs in South Carolina and across the nation. They are among the most powerful public officials in many counties, especially in rural areas of the South. But from the Upstate to the Lowcountry, no part of South Carolina has been untouched by scandalous sheriffs. The impacts ripple through communities.

Sheriffs who abuse their positions set poor examples for their deputies. Corruption breeds fear and mistrust. State laws also help perpetuate a culture of secrecy that allows wrongdoing to fester. The state also has weak whistleblower laws, making it even less likely for honest deputies to report wrongdoing. South Carolina lawmakers have long had the power to create more checks and balances. But decade after decade they've stood by as corruption cases piled up. Voters in Chester County McCormick South Carolina nude wives him inand his victory carried high expectations.

Chester County is a piney area between Columbia and Charlotte. Mills and other businesses closed, leaving behind vacant storefronts and entrenched drug-fueled crime. Underwood arrived with a solid. In a request form, the department said four people would go: Underwood, Chief Deputy Robert Sprouse and two ranking deputies. But the two ranking deputies never went. Instead, Underwood and Sprouse took their wives. The airport is 2. The hotel offers a free shuttle. The department's drug forfeiture would pay for the trip, a note on one spending document said.

In written answers to the newspaper, Underwood said he upgraded his room in Reno to a king-size bed so his feet wouldn't hang off the mattress. He said that no "taxpayer dollars were spent" for the trips, but that claim falls flat. Money for the trips came from "forfeiture" s, pots of cash filled by assets seized in criminal investigations. Such s are public money. Underwood and Sprouse also said they paid for their wives' flights to Reno "out of our pocket.

Flying first class is illegal in most cases for state employees — witness former Gov. But sheriffs are unusual islands of government. Their authority is rooted in the state constitution, and they're subject to state ethics laws. But because they're county officials, it's unclear whether they're bound by state procurement regulations, including ones that prohibit the use of state funds to buy first-class tickets.

The South Carolina attorney general hasn't written an opinion on the issue, said Robert Kittle, the attorney general's communications director.

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This legal gray area didn't stop Underwood from flying first class to other cities, records show. As in Reno, he booked a Blacklane chauffeur. And last year, Underwood went to yet another national conference, this one in New Orleans. He put two first-class flights on the department credit card. One ticket was his, the other was for his wife, Angel, Chester County's chief magistrate. Underwood told the newspaper it was due to "unforeseen circumstances. The department also paid for his Blacklane chauffeur rides to and from the airport. Underwood then missed his first-class flight back home.

According to a deputy who also was in New Orleans, Underwood wanted to enjoy himself for another night. In a statement, Underwood said that he missed his mid-afternoon flight because of traffic. Underwood told the newspaper he booked those first-class flights because he is "a very large man with prior knee surgeries and on-going medical issues.

First class was the best option. However, county records show the department paid for the first-class flights.

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Meantime, the National Sheriffs Association confirmed that Underwood won the trip but that the prize was only for coach tickets. The association paid the airlines directly for the tickets. It remains unclear why the county and the association both paid for tickets to New Orleans.

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The office of sheriff has roots stretching back a thousand years to feudal England. Old English sheriffs collected taxes, maintained jails and captured wrongdoers. The British exported the sheriff concept to its colonies. And after American independence, state after state made sheriffs elected positions. Infederal prosecutors indicted him in connection with an auto-theft ring. Inhe pleaded guilty to federal charges that he protected illegal gambling operations.

Infederal and state authorities charged him in a vote-buying scandal. In the mids, Ken Fortenberry, a local newspaper owner, asked to see a jail log. Then-Sheriff Jimmy Gable refused. Fortenberry started digging and soon began fielding death threats.

Two bombs exploded around his home. Despite the charge, the coroner ran for sheriff anyway. Meantime, Reid, a former deputy, had been pardoned for a felony grand larceny charge. He had also failed his criminal justice academy course. Reid won, prompting sheriffs across the state to call for tighter qualifications.

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Five years ago, Metts pleaded guilty to a federal charge that he accepted bribes to let illegal Mexican immigrants out of his jail. He was sentenced to one year in prison. Criminal Justice Academy. You have access to seized money and drugs. And everyone is obedient because they know they can get fired if they question anything you do. InSouth Carolina voters approved a change in the state's constitution requiring sheriffs to be free of felonies and have at least five years of law enforcement training and a high school diploma.

After a high-speed chase, Cannon slapped a handcuffed suspect in the face. Cannon was charged with misdemeanor assault and entered pre-trial intervention. Inhe sped away from a crash site in his county pickup truck at speeds of mph. He was charged with driving under the influence. He resisted calls to step down. Then, a month after his arrest, the county released records describing allegations of sexual harassment.

DeWitt quit just as the documents were made public. More recently, a grand jury indicted Will Lewis, the now-suspended sheriff of Greenville County, on charges of misconduct, perjury and obstruction.

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The initial charges came after an assistant, Savanah Nabors, alleged in a lawsuit that Lewis sexually assaulted her during a business trip. Lewis later said the affair was consensual. But the lawsuit also opened a window into how Lewis viewed the Reno sheriff conference in You wanna do that? I feel like if somebody were to find that out I want time away. I want you to myself. I want to be able and sit around on the beach and drink on company time and just Lewis has said he wants to take his criminal charges to trial.

Through his attorney, he declined to comment for this article. Melvin and defended Williamsburg County Sheriff Michael Johnson, said law enforcement jobs are low-paying and stressful, and that this stress sometimes le to bad decisions. There have to be checks and balances. The government should operate in transparency, but ultimately we must elect honest and McCormick South Carolina nude wives people. Another is that people are afraid of messing with a powerful sheriff. John Crangle, a longtime government watchdog now with the S.

Progressive Network, likens sheriffs to Roman emperors: rulers who were almost impossible to dislodge unless they died or were assassinated. Today, instead of deaths, federal and state investigations topple many sheriffs, he said. That made an impression on me then. Crangle said he supports term limits for sheriffs and regular outside audits by the state inspector general. And the people who often run for this office often like power, have big egos, and those people are especially vulnerable to opportunities to engage in misbehavior.

Compared with other county office-holders, sheriffs can surround themselves with pots of cash. Money comes from county taxpayers, federal grants, fees, assets seized in criminal cases and many other sources. Sheriffs often are affiliated with nonprofit foundations. And they have campaign funds. He typically went there two to three times a month. In a statement, Lott's department said the sheriff holds monthly meetings with a deputy group to boost morale and discuss employees' concerns.

His credit card also helped employees work off those calories. In a statement, the department said the races helped team-building and camaraderie. Lott also flew to numerous conferences, including the same one in Reno that Chester County Sheriff Alex Underwood attended. Unlike Underwood, Lott flew economy.

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