United States Attorney Bill Nettles announced today sentencing hearings have been scheduled in the cases of United States v. Donald R. Betenbaugh, Wille E. Randall Jr., W. Howard Wells, Lapriest Beacham and Willard D. Farr.
The hearings will begin at 11 a.m. in the second floor courtroom of the Donald S. Russell Federal Building, 201 Magnolia St., Spartanburg on Tuesday, Sept. 21. United States District Court Judge Henry F. Floyd will preside.
Betenbaugh, who served nearly 16 years as supervisor, was indicted in October 2009 on 40 charges involving corruption and drug activity. In February, Betenbaugh pleaded guilty to one count of extortion under an agreement negotiated with the government by his attorneys. Under the terms of the agreement, Betenbaugh is required to cooperate fully with authorities in their ongoing investigation, including taking and passing any and all polygraph tests the government required him to take.
In exchange for his cooperation, the government agreed to drop the other 39 charges against Betenbaugh upon his sentencing. As part of the agreement, the government is recommending Betenbaugh be sentenced to five months in federal prison followed by five months in a halfway house, then three years supervised release. He will also be required to make restitution and pay fines in an amount determined by the court and pay a special assessment fee of $100.
When the agreement was announced and the plea entered, US Attorney Mark Moore said if Betenbaugh did not cooperate fully with investigators, including passing the polygraph tests, he would not be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea. Instead, the government will ask the court to impose a harsher sentence on the extortion charge and prosecute Betenbaugh on the other 39 charges.
The maximum sentence Betenbaugh could receive on the extortion charge is 20 years and a $250,000 fine. If convicted on all 40 charges he could be sentenced to more than six centuries in prison.
In presenting the government’s case in February, Moore said in March 2006 Betenbaugh and Randall colluded in the extortion of a $50,000 bribe from the owner of the American Federal Building who was seeking to sell the building to the county. Moore said the extortion effort began when Randall went to the owner and asked him how much it was worth to him to make the sale happen. He said the owner initially offered Betenbaugh and Randall $25,000 but they demanded and got $50,000 and Betenbaugh proceeded to push the sale through.
While they both admitted their participation in the extortion scheme, Moore said Betenbaugh and Randall have given investigators conflicting accounts as to how the money was split. Both would be asked about this during their polygraph sessions.
Betenbaugh and Randall, who served as tax assessor for 15 years until July 2009, were originally charged last October with a 15-count indictment accusing them of conspiracy, extortion, soliciting and accepting bribes, money laundering, structuring financial transactions to avoid federal reporting requirements and knowingly allowing the Assessor’s Office to be used to store and distribute cocaine and Hydrocodone. The October indictments included an additional 25 charges against Betenbaugh accusing him of witness tampering, lying to federal agents, misprison of a felony, obstruction of justice and illegally distributing Lorazepam, a Schedule IV controlled substance.
In January, Randall pleaded guilty to six of the 15 charges and faces a maximum possible sentence of 190 years in prison and a $5.25 million fine. He also pleaded guilty to a separate charge of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and a mixture containing methamphetamine. On that charge, he faces a maximum possible sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of $20 million.
Beacham was charged in the same indictment as Randall and also pleaded guilty to conspiring to distribute cocaine and a mixture containing methamphetamine. He, too, faces a possible maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of $20 million.
As part of his agreement with the government, Randall was also required to cooperate fully with investigators, including taking and passing polygraph tests.
US Attorney Kevin McDonald said the government decided to enter into a negotiated agreement with Betenbaugh after his attorneys provided evidence that called into question Randall’s credibility and reliability as one of the government’s primary witnesses against him. McDonald did not elaborate on the nature of the evidence presented but said determining the truth would be part of the ongoing investigation.
Wells, who served as sheriff for 16 years before being defeated for re-election in 2008, was originally named in a three-count indictment charging him with lying to federal investigators and witness tampering. In January, he pleaded guilty to a single count of lying to federal investigators for which he faces a maximum possible sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Prosecutors told the court Wells made loans totaling $210,000 to an individual resulting in his gaining “a significant interest income.” When questioned about this by FBI agents in March 2009, Wells “made materially false statements” to agents concerning the number of loans he had made, the taxable income he had earned from them and the existence of documentation regarding the loans nd the income they generated for him.
Farr was originally charged in a three-count indictment with conspiracy to commit extortion, aiding and abetting former City of Union mayor Bruce Morgan and forme city building inspector Jeff Lawson to extort money from contractors looking to do business with the city and lying to federal investigators. In January, Farr pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit extortion and faces a maximum possible sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Prosecutors said Farr helped Morgan and Lawson extort a $6,000 kickback from a contractor seeking a city contract.
Morgan and Lawson pleaded guilty to conspiring to take kickbacks in September 2008 and were sentenced in February 2009 to five years and 11 months and 12 years and one day in prison, respectively.