Members of Union County Council expressed shock at the indictment of Supervisor Donnie Betenbaugh and one says she believes he’s innocent.
United States Attorney W. Walter Wilkins announced Monday that a federal grand jury has issued four separate indictments against Union County Supervisor Donald Betenbaugh, former sheriff Howard Wells, former tax assessor Willie Randall Jr. and Union County residents Lapriest Darnell Beacham and Willard Dee Farr. The five are charged with a wide range of corruption and drug charges.
Betenbaugh and Randall were named in a 40-count indictment. Both are charged in the indictment’s first 15 counts with conspiracy, extortion, soliciting and accepting bribes, money laundering, structuring financial transactions to evade federal reporting requirements and knowingly allowing the Assessor’s Office to be used as a “stash house” for the storage and distribution of cocaine and hydrocodone.
As an elected official, Beteanbaugh is also charged in 25 additional counts with witness tampering, lying to federal agents, misprision of a felony, obstruction of justice and illegally distributing Lorazepam, a schedule IV controlled substance.
If convicted on all counts, Betenbaugh faces a maximum possible sentence of 618 years in federal prison and a fine of $13 million dollars. Randall faces a maximum possible sentence of 190 years in federal prison and a fine of $5.25 million dollars.
The allegations against Betenbaugh shocked the members of the Union County Council which may soon meet to discuss the ramifications of his indictment.
“I’m very shocked, it was very unexpected,” District 6 council member Kacie Petrie said. “We just have to wait and see what happens. Everyone’s innocent until proven guilty. That’s what the indictment said.”
(In announcing the indictments, Wilkins stressed all charges are merely accusations and all defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.)
District 2 council member Dora Martin, however, stated categorically she believes Betenbaugh is innocent of the charges.
“I am just as surprised and shocked by the announcement as anybody,” Mrs. Martin said. “I believe he is innocent. I don’t believe he is guilty. The law of the land says innocent until proven guilty and I honestly believe he is innocent.”
Betenbaugh is being represented by Columbia attorney Greg Harris who maintained his client’s innocence Monday following a hearing in federal court in Greenville. Harris said he and Betenbaugh were looking forward to their day in court.
District 3 councilman Tommy Ford said he wanted to get more information before he made a comment, but said he expects the council will meet soon to discuss the matter.
Whether or not Betenbaugh will continue to serve as supervisor is uncertain. County Attorney Sammy Diamaduros described the situation as “a rare occurrence” and said he is researching what the next steps will be.
Diamaduros said that based on his preliminary reasearch to date, the governor has the authority to suspend public officials and appoint a temporary replacement. He said that he is continuing his research and hopes to have more information for council in the near term.
Betenbaugh was released on $45,000 bond Monday and placed under an 8:30 p.m. curfew.
Randall, who served as tax assessor for 15 years until July of this year, was also named in a separate indictment with Beacham. Both men are charged with conspiracy since 2007 to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine and 50 grams or more of a mixture containing methamphetamine. Beacham is also charged with three additional counts for distributing cocaine last February.
If convicted on this separate indictment, Randall faces an additional maximum possible sentence of 40 years in federal prison with a mandatory minimum of five years and a fine of $2 million. Beacham faces a maximum possible sentence of 100 years in federal prison and a fine of $8 million.
Randall was released on a $10,000 bond and also placed under an 8:30 p.m. curfew.
Wells, who served as sheriff of Union County for 16 years before being defeated for reelection in 2008, was named in a three-count indictment charging him with lying to federal investigators and witness tampering.
The indictment is the result of an investigation into sizable loans allegedly made by Wells to an individual resulting in significant interest income to Wells. The indictment charges that in March 2009, Wells “made false statements to federal law enforcement agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation concerning his involvement in concealing his receipt of taxable interest income and the existence of documents acknowledging the same.”
The indictment also charges that in April 2009 Wells engaged in witness tampering by corruptly persuading an individual identified in the indictment as “J.G.” to mislead federal investigators and to induce J.G. to “alter, destroy, mutilate and conceal an object with intent to impair the object’s integrity and availability for use in an official proceeding.”
If convicted on all counts, Wells faces a maximum possible sentence of 45 years in federal prison and a $750,000 fine.
Farr is charged in a three-count indictment with conspiracy to commit extortion, aiding and abetting former City of Union Mayor E. Bruce Morgan and former City of Union Building and Zoning director Jeffrey Lawson to extort money from contractors seeking to do business with the City of Union and lying to federal investigators. Morgan and Lawson have already pled guilty and were sentenced to federal prison earlier this year.
If convicted on all counts, Farr faces a maximum possible sentence of 45 years in federal prison and a fine of $750,000.
All five defendants are expected to make an initial appearance in federal court in Greenville today at 2:30 p.m.
Wilkins said the case was investigated by agents of the FBI, the IRS-Criminal Investigation and SLED and that he has assigned the case to Assistant United States Attorneys Mark C. Moore, Nancy Wicker, and J.D. Rowell of the Columbia office for prosecution.