Sheriff in notorious case indicted

COLUMBIA — The former South Carolina sheriff who investigated the Susan Smith case is one of several public figures named in federal indictments unsealed Monday on charges ranging from witness tampering to drug distribution.


Former Union County Sheriff Howard Wells is accused of persuading a witness to mislead investigators and destroy evidence, U.S. Attorney Walt Wilkins said Monday.

According to the indictment, Wells loaned money to an unnamed person in exchange for interest that he then didn't report as taxable income, then lied to FBI agents in March about the loan. The indictment also charges that Wells later persuaded a person identified as "J.G." to lie to investigators and destroy evidence.

Wells, first elected as sheriff in 1992 and defeated last year, was propelled into the national spotlight in October 1994 during the investigation into two Union County children reported missing by their mother. Smith initially told investigators that her young sons had been taken in a carjacking, tearfully pleading on television for their return.

But nine days later, Smith confessed to Wells she had strapped her boys into their car seats and let her car roll into a lake, with them trapped inside. Wells has said he got Smith's confession by telling her the police knew there was no carjacking.

Smith is currently serving life in prison.

If convicted, Wells faces up to 45 years in federal prison and a $750,000 fine. It was not immediately clear if Wells had an attorney, and a message left at his home was not immediately returned.

Wells' indictment was one of four handed down against five people in Union, a town of about 9,000 about 70 miles northwest of Columbia. Union County Supervisor Donald R. Betenbaugh and former Union County tax assessor Willie E. Randall Jr. were charged with conspiracy, extortion, soliciting bribes, money laundering and allowing Randall's office to be used to store cocaine and other drugs.

Betenbaugh is also charged with witness tampering, lying to agents and illegally distributing an anti-anxiety drug. Randall and Lapriest Darnell Beacham, are also charged with distributing cocaine and methamphetamine.

A fifth man faces charges in connection with two former Union officials already serving federal prison time. Willard Dee Farr is charged with conspiracy to commit extortion, aiding and abetting former Union Mayor Bruce Morgan and former zoning administrator Jeffrey Lawson to extort money from contractors seeking to do business with city.

Morgan and Lawson have pleaded guilty to seeking bribes and plotting to take kickbacks in exchange for awarding government contracts.



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