Federal prosecutors are fighting an attempt by suspended Lexington County Sheriff James Metts to get misconduct charges against him dismissed that allege he failed to notify U.S. customs officials about illegal immigrants at the jail he formerly supervised.
Metts “allowed friends to buy his active obstruction and interference (in) the identification and processing” of those immigrants, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Richardson said in a reply in U.S. District Court submitted Nov. 20.
The claim comes in response to an effort by Metts’ legal team to throw out two parts of a 10-count indictment on the grounds that his failure to tell customs officials isn’t a crime, since the agreement he made to house them didn’t require notification.
Metts impeded those reports repeatedly instead of engaging in “mere inaction,” prosecutors said in arguing for retention of the charges.
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“On numerous occasions, Metts agreed to take – and did take – affirmative steps to interfere,” Richardson’s response said without offering examples.
“The agreed upon course of action is just as illegal as a sheriff who affirmatively intervenes to prevent a fugitive from being fingerprinted,” it continued.
Richardson and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim May are the lead prosecutors seeking to convict Metts.
It’s up to U.S. District Court Judge Terry Wooten to decide whether the charges will be submitted to a jury for consideration.
Metts is accused of accepting payments in exchange for helping four immigrants return to work in Midlands restaurants in 2011.
Customs officials suspended county deputies from handling detention of immigrants at the jail after Metts was charged.
Metts, suspended since his indictment June 17, is set to go on trial Jan. 20. He is free on $100,000 bond after pleading not guilty.
He is suspended without pay from the post he held nearly 42 years. If convicted, he faces up to 10 years in prison and fines of up to $250,000.
Richardson also disputed complaints by Metts’ lawyers Sherri Lydon and Scott Schools that prosecutors are taking too long to turn over financial records requested.
Federal officials have turned over all records in their possession but are double-checking to make sure no records have been overlooked, he said.