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SC deputy caught in sex sting by own department; ex-official also charged

Updated August 14, 2019 - 11:42 am

COLUMBIA, S.C. — A South Carolina sheriff’s department says it caught one of its own deputies last week in a child sex sting that netted over a dozen other people.

The State reports Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott announced the arrest of Deputy Derek Vandenham on Tuesday. Twelve other law enforcement agencies assisted in “Operation Relentless Guardian,” during which deputies pretended to be 13- to 15-year-old girls and chatted with men online.

The men who solicited sex from the “girls” were arrested at an agreed upon meeting site. Lott says the meetup site was changed so Vandenham wouldn’t know he was about to be arrested and the uniformed deputy arrived in his patrol car. He was immediately fired.

The sting also led to the arrest of former transportation commissioner 72-year-old John Norton Hardee, a day after being sentenced to probation in an unrelated case.

The State reports the Richland County Sheriff’s Department charged Hardee with solicitation of prostitution Thursday. On Wednesday, a judge sentenced Hardee to 18 months’ probation and 45 days of house arrest, and fined him $1,000 on a felony charge of deleting emails connected to a federal investigation.

The newspaper says Hardee told the judge Wednesday that he always obeys the law and hadn’t even “gotten a traffic stop in 45 years.”

Sheriff’s officials didn’t release details of Hardee’s most recent arrest and The State says Hardee didn’t comment.

If convicted, he could face up to 3 years in prison for violating the terms of his probation.

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