Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Former Florence County sheriff’s lieutenant charged with obstruction

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A former Florence County, South Carolina sheriff’s office lieutenant is now facing federal obstruction charges, on top of the bribery and public corruption charges from earlier this year, according to a criminal complaint filed Tuesday.

Mark Edward Fuleihan was charged this week with obstruction of state or local law enforcement and obstruction of an official proceeding, according to the criminal complaint and affidavit.

Back in April, Fuleihan was arrested by agents of the South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on a bribery charge related to his alleged involvement in an illegal gambling ring.

“Bribes were paid to Fuleihan in exchange for information/ services used to facilitate the operation of the illegal gambling organization and to avoid detection from other local, state and federal law enforcement agencies,” prosecutors in the office of S.C. attorney general Alan Wilson alleged.

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In May, Fuleihan was indicted on one count of misconduct in office, and one count of receiving anything of value to influence action of public official ethics violation, on top of the bribery charges.

The affidavit released Tuesday reveals more details of those alleged bribes and Fuleihan’s role in the gambling ring.

According to the affidavit released Tuesday, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) agents believe Fuleihan’s organization has been running “underground” gambling houses throughout Florence and Williamsburg counties since “at least” 2016.

As agents were conducting the investigation into the gambling ring, investigators believe those operating the gambling ring were receiving tips from “corrupt law enforcement officers” — including Fuleihan — to avoid getting caught, according to the affidavit.

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The indictment cites multiple occasions in which Fuleihan allegedly interfered with the illegal gambling investigation, including the following:

  • In 2018, an unnamed source told a SLED agent that Fuleihan helps “Co-conspirator #1” (who is not named in the affidavit) “run his illegal gambling business without the worry of law enforcement interference. Specifically, a source said he was paid to notify the “Co-Conspirator #1” when law enforcement is working on an area.
  • A source also told SLED Fuleihan had three illegal gambling machines in his garage in 2015.
  • The source told SLED they observed Fuleihan retrieve an illegal gambling machine from the Florence County Sheriff’s Office evidence storage and deliver it to his co-conspirator in 2015.
  • The source overheard phone conversations between Fuleihan in which he would inform his co-conspirator when SLED was in town.

In January 2019, after SLED agents conducted alcohol investigations in Lake City, South Carolina and found illegal gambling machines, Fuleihan called a senior SLED official and “discussed his displeasure” that SLED agents did not notify him before the inspection, according to the affidavit. This happened on two separate occasions in January 2019.

In August, 2019, HSI and SLED agents interviewed two sources who revealed the following information, according to the affidavit:

  • Sometime between 2010 and 2011, Fuleihan started working with Co-Conspirator #1 and they agreed to pay him $1,500 a month to tip them off when law enforcement was investigating them or in a certain area
  • On one occaision, Fuleihan seized illegal gambling machines from one location in Lake City and they were found in another location in Johnsonville, South Carolina.

In February 2020, as SLED and HSI agents were closing in on the investigation with multiple federal search warrants, the source told agents Fuleihan provided specific information to Co-Conspirator #1 about the search warrant that was then used to remove and destroy evidence before law enforcement arrived. He also told his co-conspirator that they planned on searching his phone and to “dump it.”

According to a release sent from Wilson’s office, SLED “utilized cellular telephone toll reports during the investigation to confirm Fuleihan’s continued communication with members of the gambling organization.”

Specifically, these reports revealed “continued communication patterns between Fuleihan and the gambling organization on specific dates/ times SLED was conducting enforcement action against the gambling organization, between 2018 and 2020,” according to the release.

Interim sheriff William Barnes dismissed Fuleihan from his position with the Florence County sheriff’s office prior to his arrest. He had worked as deputy in Florence County since 1995.

Fuleihan faces 5 years in prison for the obstruction of state or local law enforcement charge and 20 years for the obstruction of an official proceeding charge.

United States Attorney Peter M. McCoy’s office will be prosecuting the federal case, while Wilson’s Office will be prosecuting the state case.

Fuleihan is set to appear in federal court on July 13.

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