- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 23, 2014

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Former Lexington County Sheriff James Metts is scheduled to be in federal court next week to attempt to plead guilty again to a charge that he tried to prevent the possible deportation of four immigrants in the country illegally. The immigrants were working at Metts’ friend’s restaurant.

Court officials scheduled a change of plea hearing for next Tuesday.

Metts’ attorneys and prosecutors filed a second plea deal for him to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to harbor certain aliens Monday. But unlike the first deal, this has no recommendation of what sentence Metts should serve. The previous deal called for him to avoid any prison time.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys agree the charge carries a recommended sentence of 10 months to 16 months in prison. A judge must approve the deal and will ultimately sentence Metts.

Metts’ original plea deal called for three years of probation and no jail time. U.S. District Judge Terry Wooten rejected the deal at a hearing Dec. 17, saying he was bothered that it called for a public servant like Metts to serve no time for breaking the law on the job.

Wooten will preside over next week’s hearing too.

In 2011, prosecutors said Metts agreed to help out Mexican restaurant owner Greg Leon, who asked four times if his employees arrested in Lexington County could be pulled out of jail before they were entered into a federal database and were found to be in the country illegally. Twice, Leon’s requests were too late. Two other times, Metts was able to get the workers out before federal agents checked on them.

Metts was indicted this summer on 10 charges. Under the deal, the remaining charges would be dropped.

If the new plea deal is accepted, Metts likely won’t be sentenced for a few months.

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