COLUMBIA, SC—United States Attorney Bill Nettles stated today that James R. Metts (68), of Lexington, South Carolina, was charged by a federal grand jury in a 10-count indictment. According to allegations in the indictment, Metts accepted bribes from friends in return for using his position, power, and influence as sheriff to interfere with the proper identification and processing of certain illegal aliens detained at the Lexington County Detention Center. Two others, Danny Frazier (46) and Greg Leon (47), both of Lexington, South Carolina, have been charged by the state grand jury with bribing Metts.
United States Attorney Bill Nettles was joined in making the announcement by South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson, Special Agent in Charge David A. Thomas of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Assistant Special Agent in Charge Kenneth R. Burkhart of Homeland Security Investigations, and Chief Mark Keel of the State Law Enforcement Division.
“Public corruption at any level will not be tolerated,” said United States Attorney Bill Nettles. “These indictments are a product of a new team at the United States Attorney’s Office whose goal is to use an unprecedented level of cooperation with state and federal agencies in routing out public corruption and returning public trust to the people.”
Metts was charged with conspiracy to violate federal law and interfere with government function (18 U.S.C. §371); use of interstate facility to facilitate bribery, in violation of South Carolina Code Sections 8-13-705 and 16-9-220 (18 U.S.C. §1952); use of interstate wire to defraud the citizens of Lexington County of their right to honest services (18 U.S.C. §1343, 1346); and conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens (8 U.S.C. §1324).
The charge of conspiracy to violate federal law and interfere with government function carries a maximum sentence of five years and a $250,000 fine; each charge of use of interstate facility to facilitate bribery carries a maximum sentence of five years and a $250,000 fine; each charge of use of interstate wire to defraud the citizens of Lexington County of their right to honest services carries a maximum sentence of 20 years and a $250,000 fine; and the charge of conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens carries a maximum sentence of 10 years and a $250,000 fine. Additionally, these charges include a maximum term of supervised release following imprisonment of three years.
This multi-agency investigation included the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Homeland Security Investigations, State Law Enforcement Division (SLED), and South Carolina Attorney General’s Office, and is assigned to Assistant United States Attorneys Nancy Wicker, Julius N. Richardson, and James H. May for prosecution.
The United States Attorney stated that all charges in this indictment are merely accusations and that the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.
COLUMBIA, SC 06/18/2014- Lexington County Sheriff James R. Metts, the longest serving sheriff in South Carolina history, has been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of public corruption and accepting bribes.
In the news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the federal government says the 68-year-old Metts “accepted bribes from friends in return for using his position, power, and influence as Sheriff to interfere with the proper identification and processing” of undocumented immigrants.
The 10-count federal indictment alleges Metts received cash from former Lexington Town Councilman Danny Frazier and Gregorio Leon, the owner of several Mexican restaurants in the Columbia area, for circumventing a federal immigration program designed to aid the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement program in detaining those who were in the country illegally.
Frazier had been hired by the sheriff’s department as a “business liaison”, a role that had never been a position in the department before.
Federal investigators say that position allowed Frazier to serve as the middle man between Metts and Leon.
The indictments detail several instances between September 2011 and November 2011 where Leon would call Frazier and ask the councilman to talk to Metts about several undocumented immigrants who worked Leon that had been arrested by the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department.
“When Metts was informed of an arrest and detention of an illegal alien working for Leon, Metts would contact his command staff and other employees to instruct that preferential treatment be provided to those specific illegal aliens,” said the indictment.
The object, the indictment said, was to prevent those undocumented immigrants from being put in a federal database.
When the matters were settled, according to the indictment, Leon would provide Frazier with envelopes filled with cash to give to Metts.
Frazier, who resigned from his seat in January for reasons unrelated to the federal charges, was under a SLED investigation for his alleged involvement in a video poker ring.
In all, Metts has been charged with conspiracy to violate federal law and interfere with government function, use of interstate facility to facilitate bribery in violation of South Carolina code, use of interstate wire to defraud the citizens of Lexington County of their right to honest services, and conspiracy to harbor undocumented immigrants.
Metts faces years in prison or hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines if he is convicted.
“Public corruption at any level will not be tolerated,” said U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles.