By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal
ABERDEEN – Convincing Hispanic motorists that he was conducting traffic stops last year, then-Lee County Sheriff’s Deputy Michael Shane Minich secretly removed cash from their wallets.
When Sheriff Jim Johnson fielded a complaint about it, he called the FBI to investigate.
Thursday, the 35-year-old Minich pleaded guilty to four misdemeanor counts of depriving people of their constitutional right against unreasonable search and seizure.
He faces up to four years in prison and $400,000 in fines. He may be ordered to pay restitution to his victims and he agreed to make no attempt to regain his state law enforcement certification.
U.S. District Judge Sharion Aycock’s courtroom was full of law enforcement representatives who worked on the case: Johnson, the FBI’s Daniel McMullen, John Quaka and Carl Cuneo, several assistant U.S. attorneys and the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.
Minich, of Nettleton, stood before Aycock with his attorney, Jason Herring, and admitted he did what he was accused of. At one point, his voice broke with emotion as he told her he had a high-school education.
Afterward, Johnson thanked his colleagues for their assistance in the case.
“My office will not tolerate this type of behavior from anyone,” he said, “especially from someone that has sworn to uphold the law.”
Minich, who worked with the sheriff’s office for 14 years, made four traffic stops on Oct. 18, 30 and 31 on U.S. Highway 78, prosecutor Robert Coleman said in court. During the stops, Minich went through the vehicle occupants’ wallets and stole their money, between $200 and $1,100 each time, Coleman noted.
The victims were not issued traffic tickets and identified Minich through sheriff’s department photos. Coleman said Minich also shut off his patrol-car camera and once, when he asked the dispatcher for identification of a license plate, he later falsified a document to say he didn’t make the stop.
Herring said the criminal code allows for his client’s actions to be charged under misdemeanors, which are less serious than felonies. Because there was no proof of violence during the crimes, he said, they were able to resolve the charges as misdemeanors.
Minich pleaded guilty to an information, which is a criminal charge that hasn’t been brought before a grand jury.
Aycock said she will set a sentence date after Minich’s pre-sentence report is completed by the U.S. Probation Service. It usually takes about two months.
Contact Patsy R. Brumfield at (662) 678-1596 or firstname.lastname@example.org.