Former Florence County Sheriff’s Lieutenant Sentenced to Just Over a Year in Federal Prison after Joint Investigation into Public Corruption and Illegal Gambling
FLORENCE, SC --- Acting U.S. Attorney M. Rhett DeHart announced today that former Florence County Sheriff’s Lieutenant Mark Edward Fuleihan, 49, of Florence, was sentenced to just over a year in federal prison as the result of an extensive joint federal and state investigation into public corruption and illegal gambling operations in the Pee Dee region. Fuleihan, who previously pleaded guilty for operating an illegal gambling business, is one of nine defendants to be charged in the case and is among eight defendants who have pleaded guilty for their role in the illegal operation.
Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) began the operation years ago after a request from the Florence County Sheriff’s Office. The investigation specifically focused on allegations that a senior law enforcement official was obstructing the ability of SLED and others to monitor illegal gambling operations by, among other things, informing those gambling operators about planned law enforcement activity. The case led to SLED’s arrest of Fuleihan on April 2, 2020, on a South Carolina State Grand Jury arrest warrant for a state Ethics Act bribery charge, followed by South Carolina State Grand Jury indictments for misconduct in office and Ethics Act bribery charges on May 14, 2020. Federal charges for obstruction of justice were filed on June 30, 2020, and a federal grand jury indicted Fuleihan on October 20, 2020, for operating an illegal gambling business, conspiracy to obstruct enforcement of state criminal law, and obstruction of an official proceeding. Then-Florence County Interim Sheriff William Barnes dismissed Fuleihan, who had served as a Florence County Sheriff’s Deputy since 1995, from his position just before his arrest by SLED.
“We trust our law enforcement officers to protect society and stand against wrongdoing,” said Acting U.S. Attorney DeHart. “When an officer violates that trust, it is imperative that we hold them accountable. I commend our state and federal partners for doing just that in this case. This team was able to dismantle a criminal organization that was bolstered by a crooked cop and to send that officer to prison.”
“We greatly appreciate the work of our federal, state, and local partners in this joint investigation, which involved the US Attorney’s Office, HSI, SLED, the Florence County Sheriff’s Office, and the Attorney General’s State Grand Jury Division,” South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson said. “It is our goal to successfully synch and pool the resources of all the various jurisdictions to best achieve justice for South Carolinians,” he added.
“A law enforcement officer’s badge and gun are not only symbols of trust and professionalism, but they are also tools that should be used for protecting the public, not enabling criminal activity,” said Special Agent in Charge Ronnie Martinez, who oversees HSI operations in North and South Carolina. “Corruption in law enforcement undermines the public’s trust and makes all of our jobs harder.”
“When a law enforcement officer breaks the law, it tarnishes the entire profession, and we lose the respect of the communities we serve” said SLED Chief Mark Keel. “SLED is committed to continuing our work with our federal, state, and local partners to ensure that we have professional accountable law enforcement in South Carolina.”
Evidence presented to the court showed that since at least July 2014, the defendants operated illegal gambling houses throughout Florence and Williamsburg. The gambling organization allowed individuals to play illegal gambling machines, collected monies from those individuals playing, and payed out winnings to those individuals. Approximately $1,000,000 in cash was deposited into the accounts of at least two members of the gambling organization.
The evidence showed that Fuleihan was essential to the ability of the gambling operation to operate. Fuleihan used his former position as a senior officer with the Florence County Sheriff’s Office to uncover details about the joint federal and state investigation into the illegal gambling operation, which included calling SLED officials and requesting to be informed about any upcoming operations related to gambling enforcement. Fuleihan would share this information with members of the illegal gambling operation, and the members would use it to evade law enforcement operations and to destroy potentially relevant evidence. Fuleihan was recorded on several calls with at least one member of the gambling operation discussing pending federal search warrants, potential wiretaps, and law enforcement raids. At least one member of the illegal gambling operation explained how Fuleihan would sell previously seized gambling machines back to members of the illegal gambling operation.
Chief U.S. District Judge R. Bryan Harwell sentenced Fuleihan to twelve months and one day in federal prison, to be followed by a three-year term of court-ordered supervision. There is no parole in the federal system. The South Carolina State Grand Jury charges remain pending at this time.
The following co-defendants in the case have pled guilty and been sentenced to terms of probation or house arrest: Timothy Dane Keefe, 39, of Lake City; Thyrone Eaddy, 54, of Lake City; Cliff Cantey, 62, of Lake City; Kenneth Moore, 64, of Salters; George Dollard, 70, of Lake City; and Leroy Barbour 51, of Florence. Co-defendant Sheryl Kirby, 52, of Lake City, has pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing. Co-defendant Dale Smith, 64, of Lake City, has been charged but has not entered a plea in the case or otherwise been convicted.
The case was investigated by HSI, SLED, the Florence County Sheriff’s Office, and the South Carolina State Grand Jury. Assistant United States Attorney Derek A. Shoemake prosecuted the federal case. State Grand Jury Division Chief Attorney S. Creighton Waters and Assistant Attorney General Johnny Ellis James, Jr. are prosecuting the case for the South Carolina State Grand Jury.