COLUMBIA (AP) — Former Lexington County Sheriff James Metts has signed a new plea deal that may result in him serving prison time in a federal bribery case, according to court papers filed Monday.
Metts, his attorneys and prosecutors signed the agreement over the weekend. It is the same as a previous deal, which was rejected by a federal judge last week, except that it makes no recommendation that Metts serve no prison time.
Metts, 68, is charged with taking bribes from a restaurant owner in exchange for preventing the deportation of some of his employees who were in the country illegally. Last week, a federal judge rejected a deal that would have let Metts plead guilty to one of 10 counts, conspiracy to harbor certain aliens, in exchange for a sentence recommendation of three years probation.
Prosecutors said the original agreement was fair because Metts only helped prevent the deportation for two people charged with traffic offenses who had no criminal record. Metts’ attorneys said while they think the government’s case is weak, Metts was willing to take the plea deal to get the case behind him.
U.S. District Judge Terry Wooten said he would be bothered that Metts wouldn’t face any prison time, telling both sides to plan to go to trial next month on all 10 charges. The new deal is for the same charge but makes no sentence recommendation. The charge carries a possible 10-year prison sentence, but the recommended range is 10 to 16 months.
Metts’ attorneys did not return a message seeking comment. No new hearing date has been set, and the new deal would also clear the way for the remaining charges against Metts to be dropped.
Metts has been in law enforcement for 47 years and was first elected in 1972. He became a well-known figure throughout South Carolina with frequent media updates about several high-profile killings.