Sheriff to Investigate, Possibly Charge Michael Phelps

02/03/2009 at 05:35 PM EST

Sheriff to Investigate, Possibly Charge Michael Phelps
Michael Phelps
Top Photo/Globe
Michael Phelps may have admitted to "bad judgment" after a photo of him apparently inhaling from a marijuana pipe was published, but the sheriff in Columbia, S.C., where the incident took place last November, could have the final word.

In a statement issued Tuesday, Sheriff Leon Lott Jr. said an investigation is underway – and charges could be pending against the Olympic star, 23.

"If someone breaks the law in Richland County, we have an obligation as law enforcement to investigate and to bring charges," the statement said. "The Richland County Sheriff's Department is making an effort to determine if Mr. Phelps broke the law. If he did, he will be charged in the same manner as anyone else. The Sheriff has a responsibility to be fair, to enforce the law and to not turn a blind eye because someone is a celebrity."

The photo published originally in the U.K. tabloid News of the World and Phelps's public apology are not likely to affect the swimmer's eligibility to compete, though the incident could jeopardize his millions of dollars in endorsement deals.

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