Prosecutors: Sheriff Booth used inmate labor for personal gain

Published: Jun. 14, 2012 at 6:24 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 24, 2012 at 6:34 PM EDT
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Jason Booth. (Source: Saluda County)
Jason Booth. (Source: Saluda County)

SALUDA, SC (WIS) - Saluda County Sheriff Jason Booth has resigned from office after being indicted for misconduct in office.

Prosecutors allege that he used an inmate for work on his private property during a period of almost six years.

In a letter to South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley on Thursday, Booth did not give a reason for his resignation. However, WIS has learned that Booth's exit from office came as a result of the indictment, which was returned on June 12.

According to Second Circuit Solicitor J. Strom Thurmond, the indictment alleges that Booth used the services of an inmate on loan to Saluda County from the South Carolina Department of Corrections to assist in building, constructing, and working on his private property in Saluda County between January 1, 2006 and October 28, 2011.   

The use of this inmate for Booth's personal gain, according to the indictment, breached his duties to the public of good faith, honesty, and accountability.

"I have resigned from my election position as Sheriff of Saluda County effective immediately," Booth wrote in his June 14 resignation letter to Haley. "I respectfully request that you appoint Chief Deputy W. R. Freeman to fulfill the duties of Sheriff until the newly elected Sheriff takes office in January, 2013."

Freeman said he knew only Booth has been investigated for at least the last six months but did not know the details.  He did not want to speak on camera but says several employees were questioned by SLED and the Attorney General's Office around Christmastime.

The governor's spokesperson says Haley plans to make an announcement in Saluda County on Friday regarding the interim sheriff.

Jeff Moore, Executive Director of the SC Sheriff's Association said the organization is "very sad for Jason and for his family."

Some people in Saluda told WIS they first heard a about the investigation a few months ago.

Booth, who was not on the ballot in Tuesday's primary election, had been sheriff in Saluda County since 2000.

Booth began his career in law enforcement with the Colleton County Sheriff's Office in 1996 and served with the Lexington County Sheriff's office from 1997 until 1999.

At the age of 27, he was one of the youngest men ever elected sheriff in the state.

In 2003, Booth was recognized by Lt. Governor Andre Bauer for Saluda County being named the "Safest County in the State." In 2004, Governor Mark Sanford presented Sheriff Booth with the "Order of the Silver Crescent" and that same year, he was named South Carolina Law Enforcement Officer of the Year.

Jason Booth's father served as sheriff in Saluda County in the 1980's.

This case was investigated by the State Law Enforcement Division under the supervision of Chief Mark Keel and Second Circuit Solicitor J. Strom Thurmond.

The prosecution was directed to Solicitor Thurmond's office at the request of South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson.

If convicted, Booth could face up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Republican Pat Griffith and Democrat John C. Perry will face off in November for the open seat. Both won their respective primaries on June 12.

Copyright 2012 WIS. All rights reserved.