I-TEAM INVESTIGATES: An Irish Traveler's Life After Sentencing

Published: Oct. 3, 2018 at 4:17 PM EDT
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Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018

NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) - Loyalty is the Golden Rule in Irish Traveler society. Betrayal can result in a sentence just as tough as a federal judge could hand down. Fifty travelers from North Augusta are charged with everything from Medicaid and food stamp fraud to life insurance and car loan fraud.

The U.S. Attorney's Office says several indicted Travelers gave information to the FBI which helped to lock up other Travelers in exchange they received lighter sentences. One of the very first Traveler arrested opens up to our I-Team about the challenges after the details of sentencing became public.

Along Highway 25 sits a three mile stretch of mansions and modular homes. The families living inside interact very little with those outside. Those on the outside usually avoid them. "I grew up inside Murphy Village, South Carolina. The gypsy camp." Mary "Chantina" Sherlock is an Irish Traveler. She was born and raised in the traditions of her people.

Liz Owens: "It was an arranged marriage?"

Chantina Sherlock: "Yes. I didn't know him that good but when I saw him I thought hey I have it better than my friend does. He looked all right."

She was just 12-years old when she dropped out of school to marry her 16-year old cousin. "When you grow up in the community where we live you adjust that you are going to marry young, during that time period," Sherlock said.

Generation after generation have upheld the tradition of preserving their society from the outside world. Loyalty is reserved for fellow Travelers and betrayal is an unforgivable sin.

"My life here is done," Sherlock said. "I know I've been made out to be a rat."

Sherlock came to us shortly after her sentencing papers became public. FBI agents arrested her in January of 2016. It was one of the first of many more arrests in Murphy Village over the next two years. "Do I believe I did wrong by going out and getting cars and helping other Travelers get cars? if they brought in false documentation it's not my job to look at that documentation," she said.

She originally faced eight charges but pleaded guilty to one. "Did I agree to testify? Yes. Did I know I would never have to testify? Of course!" Sherlock says she never gave information about her family or other travelers to the FBI. The court sealed one motion to protect her but not a pre-sentence document. Just before her sentencing the U.S. Attorney stated she gave up information about her family and others inside Murphy Village. "Her assistance was substantial in the successful prosecution of numerous

co-conspirators," he wrote.

Liz Owens: "Has that hurt you or helped you?"

Chantina Sherlock: "What do you mean?"

Liz Owens: "Cooperating with the government?"

Chantina Sherlock: "I am not in jail. I am in hell."

The unsealed document possibly sentenced her to a life as an outcast in Murphy Village. Sherlock's attorney emailed her: "The work you have done for DOJ has severed your connection to the Village and it's people, who will never, ever, again trust you....in their opinion you have seriously breached that trust." The government has indicted nearly fifty travelers since Sherlock's arrest. Some awaiting sentencing have asked the court to seal their sentencing.

Liz Owens: "Do you regret not taking witness protect?"

Chantina Sherlock: "Yes."

The outside world can feel scary with little education and limited interaction with "Country" people, as Travelers call outsiders. "A Country person has a normal life if you are gypsy and you want to go outside that life and control your own life- good luck," Sherlock explained. Now she is caught between two worlds. An outcast in one and a foreigner in the other. She says she plans to leave but whether she is allowed is another story. She is currently serving probation for her crime which means she legally can not leave.

The U.S. Attorney's Office recognizes the unique challenge of Travelers adapting to the outside world. Part of Sherlock's sentence includes attending vocational school. The court has included education in several of the Travelers' sentences. Twenty-nine Travelers are still awaiting on sentencing.