Williamsburg County Sheriff, Columbia Man Sentenced for Fraud
COLUMBIA, SC—United States Attorney Bill Nettles stated today that former Williamsburg County Sheriff Michael L. Johnson, age 39, of Salters, South Carolina, and Lester L. Woods, age 49, of Columbia, South Carolina, were sentenced today for Conspiracy to Commit Wire Fraud, a violation of Title 18, U.S. C. §1349. Chief United States District Judge Terry L. Wooten sentenced Johnson to 30 months’ imprisonment and Woods to 33 months’ imprisonment. The Court also ordered restitution and imposed three years’ supervised release to follow the terms of imprisonment. Both were convicted in September 2014 after a four-day trial.
Evidence presented at the trial established that Lester Woods held himself out as a credit repair specialist. People would come to him to raise their credit scores, sometimes paying him over $1,000. He then got in touch with former Sheriff Michael Johnson.
Johnson would write up police reports, or incident reports, saying that a particular client of Woods had been a victim of identity theft in Williamsburg County. He would then send the incident report to Woods.
Woods would often write out a cover page of accounts that supposedly were fraudulent, attach the incident report Johnson wrote, and fax it to Equifax. Once Equifax received the report, it relied on the information sent by Woods and Johnson as true and deleted those debts and other derogatory information from Woods’ clients’ credit history. When the bad debts were removed from the credit history, the credit score of the client would often go up. This made it more likely that the client could be extended credit or get more loans, but since the underlying debt often remained, the client was much more likely to default on the new debt.
In all, Woods and Johnson caused to be suppressed over $11 million dollars in credit information.
United States Attorney, Bill Nettles, stated “Abuse of public office is an abuse of public trust, which is illegal. Our office will continue to place these prosecutions at the top of our priority list.”
The case was investigated by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Assistant United States Attorney Winston Holliday of the Columbia office prosecuted the case.