A federal judge on Tuesday refused to dismiss bribery-related charges against suspended Lexington County Sheriff James Metts.
District Judge Terry Wooten heard arguments from attorneys representing South Carolina’s longest-serving sheriff. They maintained prosecutors were relying entirely on the testimony of two other men charged in the case, which they considered unreliable evidence.
The trial is scheduled to begin in mid-January.
Metts has been suspended from office ever since his indictment in June. He is accused of taking bribes from the owner of the Midlands-based San Jose restaurants in exchange for releasing some San Jose employees who had been detained for being in the country illegally. The indictments claim that the restaurant owner Gregorio Leon would contact a “business liaison” with the Sheriff’s Department, to ask for help with employees who had been detained on immigration violations. The liaison (former Lexington Town Councilman) Danny Frazier would then arrange for Metts to receive cash in exchange for his help, prosecutors say.
The sheriff’s attorneys have challenged the testimony of Frazier and Leon as “unsavory,” according to Columbia TV station WIS. Both men are also facing charges for their role in the operation.
Metts’ attorneys had also sought delays in the case, insisting that prosecutors had not been forthcoming in releasing evidence from other investigations where Metts had been named. But the Attorney General’s Office team said they have already turned over more than 40,000 documents in the case.
Previously, defense attorneys have also argued the sheriff was only guilty of not informing federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials about the release of potentially illegal residents. WIS reported attorneys played a 2011 video created by the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department which detailed the department’s involvement in the 287(g) program. The ICE partnership allows select participating counties to handle illegal immigration issues in their jurisdiction.