South Carolina Sheriff Gets In Trouble Trying to Trade For a Spy Plane
Richland County sheriff Leon Lott laughs it off
Leon Lott, the colorful and immensely popular sheriff of Richland County, South Carolina — the county encompassing the state capitol Columbia — really digs military hardware. Arguably the most famous photo of Lott depicts him posing in front of his department’s M-113 armored personnel carrier, replete with a .50-caliber machine gun.
Lott is big on homeland security and believes South Carolinians back him up. Commenting a couple years ago on the likelihood of a Mumbai-style terror attack in South Carolina compared to northern states, Lott said that the southern state would be a tougher target. “In the South, you have guns. In the North, nobody does. If they [terrorists] did something here, everyone would be running around with hunting rifles.”
Richland County Sheriff’s Department
Now Lott and the roughly 600-deputy strong Richland sheriff’s department are in a little bit of trouble for trying to get their hands on a Cessna surveillance plane — by trading in a pair of 20-seat C-23 Sherpa transport aircraft that Richland County got free from the U.S. Army after the Army decided to retire the aged transport.
It’s a complicated story. I’ll let The State newspaper explain:
On Jan. 8, 2013, Lott’s department and others across the U.S. got an email from the Department of Defense saying Sherpa airplanes were available. …
Within a few days of getting the email, Lott’s department told the Department of Defense it would like two Sherpas – one for parts, and one for use. Lott said he knew the S.C. National Guard and federal agencies in South Carolina would want to use the plane, too. …
In June 2013, Lott agreed with Win Win Aviation, an Illinois military contractor, to exchange Lott’s two Sherpas for a 2013 six-seat Cessna 206. As part of the deal, Win Aviation agreed to upfit the Cessna with more than $500,000 high-tech surveillance equipment Lott can use in crime fighting. …
Before finalizing the deal, Lott notified Department of Defense coordinator in South Carolina, Robin Holmes, of his plans with the Sherpas. Holmes raised no objection to Lott’s proposed deal, but later said that Lott’s letter explaining the deal wasn’t clearly worded, according to documents. …
Lott, under threat of having to return all his military surplus equipment, eventually agreed to ask Win Win for the Sherpas back.
But in February of this year, Win Win filed a lawsuit in federal court in Illinois against the sheriff’s department and the Department of Defense. The suit asked a federal judge to let it keep the planes.
“This has all been a huge misunderstanding – nobody did anything improper,” Lott told The State. Predicting that the court will allow Richland to keep its Cessna spy plane, Lott added: “Our nightmare will turn into a sweet dream.”