COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A South Carolina sheriff found guilty of misconduct for using his power and office to push a personal assistant to have sex with him was sentenced Friday to the maximum of a year in prison.
Former Greenville County Sheriff Will Lewis and his wife both asked for home confinement. Lewis said prison scared him.
But Solicitor Kevin Brackett said Lewis’ misconduct was “brazen, naked corruption” and his evasive answers and convenient memory lapses about key details that might be harmful or humiliating during his own testimony in his four-day misconduct trial shows he remains arrogant and cocky.
“He has no insight into his own personal failings. This wasn’t an isolated incident. This is who he is. I don’t think he’s capable of change,” Brackett said.
Judge G. Thomas Cooper told Lewis if he truly is a changed man, he would take advantage of what looks like a dire situation behind bars.
“My sentence unfortunately for you is going to give you a lot of time to think about this. Put into perspective your life with your family, your community, your God. I’d advise you not to squander or waste that time,” Cooper said as Lewis lowered his head.
A jury found Lewis guilty of one misconduct charge late Thursday, assuring under the law he will be removed from the job he won in South Carolina’s most populous county in 2016.
It was a split verdict. Jurors convicted Lewis of misconduct that involves corruption or fraud, but not guilty of misconduct that involves not doing a public job properly. That other charge carried up to 10 years in prison.
Lewis’ lawyer said he is considering an appeal and asking Judge Cooper to let Lewis stay free while it is heard.
Lewis is the ninth sheriff in South Carolina to be convicted of crimes while in office in the past decade. Their crimes have ranged from using inmates for personal work to running a scheme to create fake police reports to help fix credit problems to protecting drug dealers.
Five of them have now been sentenced to time behind bars. Two other sheriffs are awaiting trials.
Lewis testified he did not plan to have sex with his young female assistant at an out-of-town budget conference, but one thing led to another after they went out for drinks and ended up in her hotel room.
Prosecutors disagree. They said Lewis, 43, used his power to set up the encounter, first by hiring the then 22-year-old woman at $62,000 a year in an agency where the starting salary for a deputy is around $30,000 and then by setting up the trip and leaving a bottle of whisky in her bag so he would have to go to her room and get it late at night.
Savanah Nabors had previously gone public with the details of what she called an unwanted sexual encounter with Lewis in 2017 in a Charlotte, North Carolina, hotel. She wrote in a blog and testified that she woke up after drinks and the sheriff was on top of her and having sex.
No sexual assault charges have been filed against Lewis. Nabors was paid nearly $100,000 from a state insurance fund in May to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit against Lewis, Greenville County and the sheriff’s office.
Nabors taped 11 conversations with the sheriff after he followed her around one day. Lewis did not admit to having sex with her until she made those tapes public. In one of them, Lewis tries to get Nabors to go to a conference in Reno, Nevada, with him and so they can “sit around and drink on the beach on company time” and stay in the same room.
“I hope this sets the example that you can’t just wear a gun and a badge and do whatever you want,” Nabors said to reporters outside the courtroom.
One of Lewis’ deputies spoke against him at sentencing, something unseen before when sheriffs in South Carolina face judges. Greenville County Master Deputy Laura Jones said Lewis’ actions put the agency in turmoil and caused a number of officers to leave.
“All of our badges have been tarnished by this,” she said.
Indictments remain in court records on about a half-dozen other charges against Lewis, including allegations he lied about conducting a background check, gave an unqualified employee a badge and intimidated deputies to try to keep them from talking to investigators. Prosecutors have not said what they plan to do in those cases.
Lewis said the affair humbled him and allowed him to become a better man and a better husband. His wife of 20 years sat at the defense table through the whole trial.
“If you’re asking me if this sexual encounter was something I enjoyed as a man, well, yes, I’m a man,” Lewis said during cross examination Thursday. “It seems blissful but it’s the ramifications afterward.”
At sentencing, Lewis’ wife, Amy, told the judge she had seen a transformation in her husband and asked not to send him to prison for his sake and the sake of their teenage children as Lewis dabbed his eyes.
“I don’t believe incarcerating this man will be in any way as challenging as the way I will challenge him,” she said.
Lewis’ lawyer Rauch Wise said the power and influence of being sheriff went to Lewis’ head.
“Too big for his britches. I think that’s a fair representation of what happened,” Wise said.
Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP .