- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 24, 2015

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - The convicted former sheriff of Williamsburg County should be sentenced to less than the three years in prison recommended by federal officials because he succeeded despite a troubled upbringing and is being treated for a painkiller addiction, his lawyer said.

Ex-sheriff Michael Johnson faces a judge Wednesday to learn his fate after a federal jury convicted him in September of mail fraud. Prosecutors said Johnson created hundreds of fake police reports for a friend who ran a credit repair business so people could claim their identities were stolen and get out of credit card debt.

The sentencing recommendation for Johnson is 30 months to 37 months in prison, according to court papers filed this week.

Johnson’s attorney said that is too harsh for a man with no criminal record who cooperated with authorities. Johnson’s request asks for a lesser sentence, but is not specific.

Johnson has suffered from depression and anxiety the past four years. He also has migraines, high blood pressure and insomnia, lawyer Deborah Barber said in court papers.

The former sheriff also was raised in a broken home, saw his mother abused by a boyfriend and left at age 17 to relieve her of financial burden, Barber said.

“He resided in a poverty-stricken area in Kingstree, South Carolina, with the family not having enough money to adequately survive,” Barber wrote.

Johnson’s co-defendant, Lester Woods, will also be sentenced Wednesday on similar charges.

Johnson joined the Williamsburg County Sheriff’s Office in 1997, two years after graduating high school and rose to chief deputy, becoming sheriff in April 2010 when the former sheriff, Kelvin Washington, was named U.S. Marshal for South Carolina.

He is one of nine sheriffs in South Carolina’s 46 counties to be charged or investigated while in office since 2010.

Seven have pleaded guilty or been convicted, and another died while under investigation. Only two of those sheriffs so far have been sentenced to prison.

A ninth sheriff, Berkeley County’s Wayne DeWitt, resigned just before he was indicted on drunken driving charges, leaving the scene of a crash and failing to stop for police from a crash in December. He is awaiting trial.

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Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP


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