RICHLAND COUNTY, SC (WIS) - "We arrested our own this morning," Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said at a news conference Thursday.
Five Richland County deputies were arrested by their own agency this morning and charged with filing false tax returns. All five deputies have been fired.
Valerie Gibson, 53, Eddie West, 29, Cedric Jacobs, 40, Bobby Cohens, 42, and Vivian Belton, 48, have all been charged with tax fraud.
Sheriff Leon Lott made the announcement just after noon Thursday.
"I knew all five of them," Lott said. "All of them have been here quite some time. None of them are rookies."
Lott said the investigation started with a probe into Maribel Crespo, a former civilian employee in the department's warrant division who was accused of dealing in counterfeit goods. He said investigators later determined Crespo was filing tax returns for deputies and creating false identities for them to claim as dependents so they could get more money refunded.
"They knowingly allowed her to put these dependents on their returns that didn't exist," Lott said.
Crespo previously was charged with financial ID fraud and misconduct in office while working as a Richland County Judicial Services officer.
Lott said deputies served a search warrant at Crespo's home last week and recovered some of the tax returns. The day the warrant was served, the five deputies were suspended without pay. Lott said they were terminated Thursday.
Crespo was out on $100,000 bond for the counterfeiting charges. She was arrested Thursday morning on 13 counts of filing a false tax return. The five deputies accused in the plan were arrested as well.
Lott said he's upset and apologized to the community.
"That's what makes me the maddest," Lott said. "After the fact that the deputies knew that we arrested her and convicted her, they continued to go to her...knowing that she was a crook."
Lott said the five deputies had several years of experience in the department.
"All of them have been here for some time. That's what disappoints me," Lott said. "The fact that they knowingly did this, they crossed that line."
Lott said the South Carolina Secretary of State's Office and the Department of Homeland Security are involved in the investigation. Lott said the investigation is not over and more charges could be filed.