Court documents filed over the weekend show that former Lexington County Sheriff James Metts has signed a new plea deal to resolve the bribery accusations against him — only days after a federal judge rejected a previous plea.
The Associated Press reports the former sheriff will once again plead guilty to one count of Conspiracy to Harbor Aliens. That was the same charge Metts pleaded in court last week. U.S. District Judge Terry Wooten had rejected that plea, saying he believed the three years probation was not severe enough of a punishment given the seriousness of the accusations. This new deal signed by Metts over the weekend does not include a specific sentence, leaving it up to Judge Wooten to determine what he believes appropriate.
Metts had faced ten charges related to a pair of illegal immigrants that prosecutors say he released from the county detention center. The indictments had stated the sheriff did so after the suspected aliens’ employer paid him an undisclosed amount of money. The charge carries a possible 10-year prison sentence, but the recommended range is 10 to 16 months.
Jury selection in the case had been scheduled for January 5, with the trial to begin on January 12.
The indictments claim that Midlands 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.
In previous filings, defense attorneys have insisted federal prosecutors are relying on unreliable witnesses. They maintained that Metts at worst did not notify the Department of Homeland Security about the releases because he did not realize it was required.
Metts was suspended from office soon after the indictments were handed down in June. He officially retired in a letter sent to Gov. Nikki Haley last week, after the previous guilty plea was submitted. Haley appointed Lewis McCarty to serve as acting sheriff in June.