COLUMBIA, S.C. -- The guilty pleas of the Dillon County Democratic chairman and six others brings to 36 the number of people convicted of vote fraud in the June 1980 party primary, and authorities say the probe is continuing.
Alan H. Schafer, 67, a multi-millionaire amusement park owner and beer distributor, pleaded guilty Monday to three charges rather than go through a trial.
Each of the defendants charged with vote fraud since the election has either pleaded guilty or been convicted.
Supporters of Schafer and his co-defendants apparently felt the odds would be against acquittal during a trial in federal court.
U.S. Attorney Henry Dargan McMaster said a state and federal investigation of the scandal 'is continuing.'
'It will keep on going until we run out of money and out of gas,' he said. 'There may be more indictments.' The investigation focused on absentee ballots cast for former Sheriff Roy Lee who received 1,265 to Greg Rogers' 81.
Schafer, the owner of the 'South of the Border' tourist complex whom Gov. Dick Riley suspended as a state highway commissioner, faces up to 15 years in prison and $12,000 in fines.
Schafer, dressed conservatively in a dark blue suit, light blue shirt and striped tie, impassively entered his plea of guilty to one count of conspiracy and two counts of mail fraud. He then avoided reporters by exiting from a side door of the courthouse.
Lee and five other defendants each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy.
Senior U.S. District Judge Walter E. Hoffman of Norfolk, Va., said the government dismissed the rest of a 17-count indictment against the men in exchange for their guilty pleas.
Schafer was charged with 16 counts of conspiracy and mail fraud and one count of obstructing justice by telling someone to destroy 200 unnumbered absentee ballots after the election.
Hoffman said federal probation officers will conduct a pre-sentencing investigation and sentencing will not occur before Nov. 16.
The other defendants, indicted last July with Schafer, were: Lee, former Dillon County Deputy Sheriff William P. Jones, suspended Dillon County Councilman Elwood McQueen and Dillon County residents Ralph Lane, Leon Moody and David K. Bethea. They each face up to five years in prison and $10,000 in fines.
Lloyd 'Mickey' Meekins Jr., a suspended Dillon County councilman, also was indicted in the case. But he pleaded guilty to reduced charges in July and reportedly has been hidden under the government's witness protection program.
Hoffman said federal laws were broken in the vote-buying scandal because absentee ballots sent through the mail listed candidates for U.S. office as well as local and state posts.
Among the other people convicted of vote fraud is State Sen. Eugene Carmichael, D-Dillon. He was convicted last summer of vote buying, conspiracy and obstruction of justice. He received a 10-year prison sentence and $20,000 fine, but his case is being appealed.