- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 25, 2015

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - A federal judge rejected all appeals for leniency Wednesday from a former Williamsburg County sheriff facing about three years in prison even after he told the court he was heartbroken at letting so many people he loved in his family and his community down.

A lawyer for Michael Johnson said he should not face the full sentence of 30 months to 37 months in prison that federal officials were recommending because he had no criminal record, cooperated with investigators and is being treated for anxiety, depression and an addiction to painkillers.

Attorneys for Johnson and co-defendant Lester Woods also said prosecutors overestimated the number of victims in his fraud case, where Johnson as sheriff filed false police reports claiming identity theft for clients of Woods’ credit repair business. The credit agencies would then erase credit card debt.

But U.S. District Judge Terry Wooten agreed with federal officials that Johnson filed 245 false incident reports of identity theft. And he said Johnson’s physical and mental problems weren’t unusually severe.

Wooten’s decision came after an emotional plea from Johnson. For five minutes, with his voice breaking at times, he apologized, admitting he broke the laws he swore to uphold during a 17-year career including four years as sheriff of the poor, rural county between Charleston and Florence. His lawyer has said the former sheriff wasn’t living extravagantly off the fraud, but was trying to help a friend and business partner.

“Knowing that I failed so many people is heartbreaking,” Johnson said.

Johnson and Woods were convicted of mail fraud in September. Johnson is one of nine sheriffs in 46 South Carolina counties to be charged or investigated while in office since 2010.

Wooten recessed the hearing for lunch before deciding the range of Woods’ sentence. He promised to hand down sentences for both men by the end of the day Wednesday.

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

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