- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 16, 2014

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Lexington County Sheriff James Metts will plead guilty in a bribery case where prosecutors said he took an envelope of cash to protect people in the country illegally from deportation and plans to retire, according to documents filed Tuesday.

In a plea deal, Metts’ attorneys and federal prosecutors agree Metts should serve three years of probation and no jail time. A judge will make the final decision on Metts’ sentence. He is scheduled to appear in court Wednesday.

The deal lends the career of South Carolina’s longest serving sheriff. Metts, 68, sent a letter Tuesday to Gov. Nikki Haley saying he was retiring. He was suspended after his June indictment.

Metts has been in law enforcement for 47 years and was first elected in 1972. He became a well-known figure throughout South Carolina with frequent media updates about several high-profile killings.

Metts was indicted on 10 charges in June and suspended. The remaining charges will be dropped, according to the plea deal which was signed Dec. 5 but made public Tuesday.

Metts plans to plead guilty to conspiracy to harbor certain aliens. The charge carried up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Lawyers for Metts didn’t return messages Tuesday.

Metts is the eighth sheriff in South Carolina to be charged or investigated while in office in the last four years. Seven of them have now pleaded guilty or been convicted. The eighth died while under an investigation, and county officials sued his estate saying he took $200,000 in public money for personal use. Only two of those sheriffs have been sentenced to prison.

Prosecutors said Metts was part of a scheme that involved several different government officials in Lexington County. Metts took bribes from restaurant owner Greg Leon in exchange for keeping some his employees who had been detained for being in the country from ending up in federal databases of immigrants who weren’t supposed to be in the U.S., authorities said.

Authorities also said Lexington Town Councilman Danny Frazier was part of the scheme and gave his own bribes to former South Congaree Police Chief Jason Amodio in exchange for seized gambling machines.

Leon, Frazier and Amodio were all indicted by the state grand jury in July and are awaiting trials.

Before Tuesday, Metts had proclaimed his innocence. After a September hearing, he said he did nothing wrong, the charges were an attempt to discredit him and he would be found innocent and justice would prevail.

Metts’ own biography said he was the first sheriff in South Carolina to hire school resource officers, employ women as sworn law enforcement officers and implement mandatory drug screening and psychological testing of prospective deputies.


Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP

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