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Cockfighting probe draws guilty plea

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- A former state agent pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators looking into whether South Carolina's agriculture commissioner took payoffs to protect a cockfighting ring.

As part of a plea deal, Keith Stokes, a former agent for the state Law Enforcement Division, agreed Tuesday to help federal prosecutors in exchange for authorities not pursuing criminal charges against two family members and recommending that Stokes's sentence be reduced, prosecutor Jane Taylor said.

He will be sentenced in two to three months.

Stokes admitted he lied to FBI agents when he denied checking to see whether the division was investigating a cockfighting ring. His lawyer, J. Preston Strom Jr., said Stokes was "embarrassed about what he did."

"It's important to note there's no evidence he took a bribe or obstructed an investigation," Strom said.

Authorities raided an arena used in the cockfighting ring a year ago, which led to the arrest of Agriculture Commissioner Charles R. Sharpe.

Sharpe was accused of accepting money from an organization involved in breeding and raising birds for cockfighting, and he has pleaded not guilty. His trial on extortion, money-laundering, and other charges is set to begin in January.

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