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A Midlands, S.C. television station is said to be aggressively pursuing the Palmetto State’s secretive video poker cabal – a corrupt assemblage of elected officials and law enforcement personnel that allegedly operates a clandestine gambling operation stretching across numerous South Carolina counties.

State law enforcement personnel may be on the verge of blowing up this so-called “Lexington Ring” as well …

Video poker has been illegal in South Carolina since 2000.  Of course that’s not stopping people from playing the games – or profiting from their operation (assuming they know the right people, anyway … like State Senators, mayors, crooked cops and other local government officials).

That’s what’s allegedly happening in Lexington, where local government appears to have been turning a blind eye to illegal gambling for years.

Anyway … this rapidly unfolding story was teased last week by The (Columbia, S.C.) Free Times – although the publication has reportedly destroyed much of the evidence it was provided with and doesn’t appear to have any plans to follow up on its initial report.  In fact multiple attempts by this website to ask the simplest of technical questions to the paper’s staffers have been rebuffed.

“We stand by the reporting in ‘Stacking the Deck,'” Free Times editor Dan Cook told FITS.

Really?  That’s wonderful but it’s not what we asked … we wanted a simple answer to a simple technical question regarding the evidence the Free Times was provided with.

Danny Frazier

Specifically, we’re referring to portions of a three-hour long audio tape that allegedly links Lexington County Sheriff’s Department employee (and Lexington town councilman) Danny Frazier with the ring.  Other politicians said to be involved?  S.C. Sen. Jakie Knotts (RINO-Lexington), S.C. Sen. Ronnie Cromer (RINO-Newberry), Lexington Sheriff James Metts and Columbia, S.C. Mayor Steve Benjamin – although we’re told that these names represent the beginning of a very, very long list.

Our website ran a follow-up story shortly after The Free Times report was published – and last Friday we released a detailed report outlining some of our initial findings.

According to some folks that wasn’t particularly wise … but as of this writing our founding editor still has a pulse.

Now it looks as though television station WIS TV 10 (NBC – Columbia, S.C.) is ready to take a bite at this juicy apple.  Sources tell FITS that the station has obtained the same audio tapes that were provided to The Free Times and that its reporters are currently in the process of compiling a report based on the content of those tapes.  In fact WIS reporter Jody Barr cornered Frazier – the man at the center of the storm – at a public meeting this week and asked him about his alleged involvement with the ring.

We were originally told that WIS had “budgeted” (i.e. scheduled) its story to run this week, but we’ve since been informed that the station is planning to run a feature report the week of August 13.  The station may even tease its story during the final days of its Olympics coverage, although those reports haven’t been confirmed by anyone at the station.

“No comment,” WIS news director Rashida Jones told FITS when asked about the station’s planned coverage of the scandal.

And who knows?  The “ring” may yet be able to keep this story from seeing the light of day … because the deeper we dig into this mess, the more money we find.

East Coast Vending, for example, contributed $500 to Sheriff Metts on March 21 of this year.  Three days earlier – on March 18 – the company gave Knotts $1,000.  Meanwhile Universal Music Inc. gave Metts $500 on May 5, 2011 and $1,000 on March 21 of this year.  On March 18 the company gave Knotts $1,000.  In 2010, the company gave $2,500 to the gubernatorial campaign of Knotts’ longtime ally, former S.C. Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer.

Both of these companies are owned by Brett Blanks, an “entertainment vendor” based in Lexington County who is said to be just one of the many providers in this racket.

Blanks himself gave Metts $1,000 on April 16, 2008, $500 on November 15, 2011 and another $500 on March 21 of this year.  He also gave $2,500 to Bauer’s gubernatorial campaign in December 2009.

WIS has reportedly interviewed Blanks for its story … or at least attempted to interview him.

According to our sources, several properties in Lexington County managed by Blanks serve as storehouses for illegal video poker machines.  Other storehouses are managed by other “providers.”  One of the facilities is said to be this warehouse located on a frontage road off of Interstate 20 …

(Click to enlarge)

Pic: Google Maps

As we’ve noted consistently ever since we started covering this story, we have no problem whatsoever with people running gambling operations in South Carolina.  In fact we think it’s utterly ridiculous that state government has a monopoly on this industry via its “education” lottery, and we believe that the private sector ought to be permitted to create jobs and attract investment via expanded gaming.

Our state’s tourism coast in particular would thrive under such a scenario.

As we wrote in our initial report, however “until such time as the S.C. General Assembly authorizes expanded gaming, individuals that seek to operate and profit off of the industry are doing so in violation of the law – which we’re not criticizing, although it does make them subject to our state’s ‘enforcement‘ of that law.”

Will there be any enforcement of the law as it relates to the “Lexington Ring?”  We’re informed by our sources at the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) that a wide-ranging crackdown is being contemplated – something we believe would go a long way toward restoring the public’s faith in its institutions.

But again … these are wealthy, powerful, well-connected and reportedly unscrupulous people.  In fact until very recently we’re told that members of the “ring” occupied key positions at SLED – enabling its operations to continue unmolested by state authorities.

S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley – who oversees SLED – is also a former Lexington County elected official, and while she may have no love lost for Knotts and other rumored members of the “ring,” it’s unclear at this point what her take on all of this is going to be.

Like we said … we’ve got no problem with gambling operations.  “Make money, money … make money, money,” is our motto.

It’s the state monopoly and selective enforcement that bothers us …