(CN) – Former Lexington County, S.C. Sheriff James Metts was sentenced to one year and a day in prison for his role in an alleged scheme to help illegal aliens housed in the county jail from being detected by federal officials.
U.S. District Judge Terry Wooten also order Metts to pay a $10,000 fine and placed him on two-years probation — to start after he serves his prison sentence.
In June 2014, a federal grand jury handed down a 10-count indictment against Metts, who at that point had served as sheriff of Lexington County, a municipality directly adjacent to the state capitol of Columbia, S.C., for 42 years.
According to the grand jury, Metts had taken bribes from friends to stymie the proper federal identification and processing of illegal aliens at the Lexington County Jail.
Two men, Danny Frazier and Greg Leon, have been indicted on charges of paying the bribes, and are still awaiting trial. Frazier is a former county councilman, who resigned from his post this year. Leon owns several Mexican restaurants in the Midlands region of South Carolina.
In one example cited by prosecutors, a restaurant employee who was an illegal alien was arrested on Sept. 16, 2011, and transported to the detention center. Leon allegedly called Frazier, who in turn allegedly called Metts and requested assistance.
Based on Metts’ early intervention, this alien was released improperly on a state bond prior to being identified or processed by federal immigration authorities, prosecutors said.
In December, Metts entered into a plea agreement with federal prosecutors, agreeing to plead guilty to one charge of harboring an illegal alien in exchange for a sentence of no more than probation.
But Judge Wooten rejected the deal, holding the charge did not meet the qualifications for a probation-only sentence.
“Conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens is a serious charge,” Wooten said.
Prosecutors restructured the deal so as not to specify the a penalty, and Wooten gave it her blessing on December 30, 2014.
Still Metts hoped to avoid prison. Just hours before his sentencing on Monday, he made a tearful personal plea, saying that he feared if he was sent to prison he “wouldn’t come out alive.”
Metts declined to take questions from reporters as he left the courthouse.
“I’m highly disappointed in the judge’s decision but I’m not questioning his decision, he is the judge,” Metts said in a statement.
“I’m going to serve my time, put it behind me, and move on with my life in a very positive way once I get this sentence out of the way,” he continued. “I’m been a long, long period of time bit at least now we’ve got o and we’re going to move on with our life.”
In a statement of his own, U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles said, “One of the cornerstones of democracy is citizens having faith that law enforcement acts with integrity and not in a self-serving ‘good ole boy’ system.
“Today’s resolution is a step towards restoring the shine to the badge that Mr. Metts tarnished,” Nettles said.
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