Lawyers for suspended Lexington County Sheriff James Metts are seeking dismissal of federal charges alleging he failed to notify U.S. customs officials about illegal immigrants at the jail he formerly supervised.
His legal team is asking U.S. District Judge Terry Wooten to throw out two parts of a 10-count indictment that says Metts obstructed detection and harbored two unidentified immigrants in failing to report their presence at the jail.
Failure to do that isn’t a crime, since the agreement Metts reached with customs officials to house immigrants at the jail didn’t require notification, lawyers Sherri Lydon and Scott Schools said in their request for dismissal Monday.
It’s the first sign of how Metts’ legal team will contest the charges of misconduct brought against him in the handling of illegal immigrants.
Metts also is accused of accepting payments in exchange for helping four immigrants return to work in Midlands restaurants in 2011.
Failure to let customs officials know about immigrants is “at worst, a possible breach” of the agreement, his lawyers said.
Federal prosecutors’ contention of “contractual obligation as a basis for crime is untested,” especially for immigration, they said.
And the agreement reached in 2010 is “at best unclear as to what it requires” from Metts, they said.
Many local law enforcement officials “regularly ignore” making such reports since they are not mandatory, Metts’ lawyers added.
Metts “maintains that he did not intend for any aliens not to be reported” but failure to do it “cannot be the basis for a criminal prosecution,” they concluded.
Customs officials suspended county deputies from handling detention of immigrants at the county jail after Metts was charged.
In a separate request, Lydon and Schools complained that prosecutors are too slow in turning over all records that allegedly prove the payments supposedly given to Metts by former Lexington Town Councilman Danny Frazier and restaurant owner Greg Leon.
Obtaining that information “has been protracted at best and has been an exercise in frustration,” they said.
They asked Wooten to order the material be turned over promptly.
No decision has been made on either request by Metts’ lawyers.
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.
Metts 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.
A State Grand Jury indicted Leon for paying the alleged bribes and Frazier for relaying two of the four payments.
Frazier also is accused of paying former South Congaree Police Chief Jason Amodio in exchange for what prosecutors allege was the release of gambling machines seized by town police.
Amodio is charged with accepting the payments.
The charges are the first in what S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson’s office says is an ongoing investigation.