Suspended Lexington County Sheriff James Metts will face the full array of federal charges of corruption in the handling of four illegal immigrants at the county jail he formerly supervised during his upcoming trial.
U.S. District Judge Terry Wooten denied an effort Tuesday by Metts’ lawyers to throw out two parts of the 10-count federal indictment prior to a trial set to start Jan. 12.
The misconduct allegations against Metts for obstructing detection and harboring such immigrants are sufficient to allow consideration by jurors, Wooten ruled.
Lawyers for Metts argued that an agreement to detain illegal immigrants did not require him to notify federal custom officials every time one was held.
Scott Schools, one of Metts’ lawyers, said the agreement allowed “some discretion on what he (Metts) had to report” when it came to immigrants not considered dangerous.
“Failure to assist can’t be a crime if there is no requirement to assist,” Schools said.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Richardson said Metts engaged in “affirmative acts to conceal” detention of some immigrants.
“He did it with corrupt intent,” Richardson said.
Metts is accused of accepting payments in exchange for helping four immigrants return to work in Midlands restaurants in 2011.
Wooten declined to delay the trial after complaints by Metts’ lawyers that prosecutors aren’t turning over information fast enough to allow adequate preparation. But he told prosecutors to make sure the material arrives soon.
Sherri Lydon, one of Metts’ lawyers, said the material sought concerns other state and federal investigations in which there are mentions of Metts and prosecution witnesses.
Studying that background is vital to suggesting the charges against Metts come from “two unsavory witnesses” with questionable credibility, she said.
Former Lexington Town Councilman Danny Frazier is accused of relaying payments to Metts from restaurant owner Greg Leon, according to charges against the pair brought by the State Grand Jury.
“Our mission is to show these two witnesses are not to be believed,” Lydon said.
Metts’ legal team is constantly asking for more after it gets what it initially wants, with more than 40,000 pages of documents turned over so far, Richardson replied.
Some of the material wanted involves trials and interviews more than 10 years old that are in storage and contain “passing references” to Metts, Frazier and Leon, Richardson said.
The list includes the conviction of former state agriculture commissioner Charles Sharpe on charges related to illegal cockfighting in 2004 and the corruption conviction of former S.C. State University trustee Jonathan Pinson in July.
Metts, indicted by federal officials June 17, 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.