Here’s what’s clear in the aftermath of Tuesday’s guilty plea by former Lexington County Sheriff James Metts to a federal charge of interfering in detention of illegal immigrants at the county jail he once supervised:
If U.S. Judge Terry Wooten formally accepts the plea, Metts will be sentenced in a few months. On Tuesday, the judge accepted the plea but said he will wait until he gets a pre-sentence report back on Metts before deciding whether he will give the deal final approval.
Federal guidelines call for a sentence of 10 to 16 months, with the possibility of serving half of that in a facility such as a halfway house, lawyers on both sides say. The maximum sentence is 10 years.
It’s undetermined where Metts could be sent, but it’s likely to be a minimum security prison within a day’s drive of the Columbia area. Federal probation officials will consider factors such as Metts’ health and age, as well as security for a former law enforcement official in recommending a site.
Metts told the judge Tuesday that he has been treated for depression and anxiety.
The former sheriff started to ask for “some consideration” but was told that is premature.
Wooten told Metts that a felony conviction results in loss of the right to vote, hold elected office, serve as a juror and own firearms.
Assistant U.S. attorney Jay Richardson called the plea “a very appropriate resolution” that was considered by authorities from the onset.
Metts’ lawyers made it clear their plan was to question the credibility of the two main witnesses against him, former Lexington Town Councilman Danny Frazier and restaurant operator Greg Leon.
The pair offered “wildly inconsistent” accounts of what happened, Metts’ lawyer Scott Schools said Tuesday.
“We are very confident in those witnesses but not blindly so,” Richardson said.
Corroborating phone and bank records as well as other material would have been offered at trial but “this is a case with some challenges to it,” he said.
The 10-count federal indictment accused Metts of taking bribes passed along by Frazier to free four of Leon’s workers from the county jail that Metts formerly supervised before the workers were processed in fall 2011 for separate traffic offenses.
Only two of the immigrants were released without federal officials being notified since requests for help came too late in two other instances, Richardson said.
Charges against the pair have been on hold pending the outcome of accusations against Metts.
Leon is under indictment for allegedly bribing Metts to free restaurant workers who were in the country illegally and were detained after being stopped for minor traffic violations.
Frazier – a political ally and former aide to Metts – was indicted for allegedly delivering the money to the ex-sheriff.
Cooperation with authorities usually leads to reduced penalties.
But Metts’ lawyer Schools suggested Tuesday that any deal with the pair is unsettled.
“There’s no agreement to what the agreement is,” he said.
Compiled by Tim Flach and John Monk