COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Suspended Lexington County Sheriff James R. Metts was formally charged in court on Tuesday.
South Carolina's longest serving sheriff stands accused of 10 counts ranging from public corruption to accepting bribes. These bribes were allegedly to help undocumented workers remain in the country.
Flanked by his two attorneys when he pled not guilty to those 10 counts, Metts was given a $100,000 unsecured bond meaning he did not have to pay the money up front.
Although Metts nor his attorneys gave any comments about today's hearing, legal experts said Metts knew he was under investigation as far back as a year ago and he knew that this arraignment would be coming.
"They would have sat down with him before the indictment came out," defense attorney Pete Strom said.
Before the bond was set, prosecutors initially told the court Metts was a flight risk. According to them, Metts recently refinanced his home for $600,000, but they couldn't account for where that money went.
"He's in a situation now where, he's going to have to pay a lot of legal fees," Strom said. "Maybe investigator fees. He's not working. But a lot of times people will want to go ahead and become more liquid as they prepare for trial because they want to have their money available. Could he be planning a trip to Cuba? Maybe, but probably he's just getting ready for trial and that's where the money is going."
Strom, a former U.S. attorney, said this will be a difficult case to prove without wiretaps. Still, Metts is hardly the first sheriff to find himself in front of a judge.
"They're going to be treated more harshly," Strom said. "I think FBI agents, SLED agents, prosecutors, United States attorneys...nobody likes a bad cop. Nor does a judge. If it turns out that a jury convicts him, he'll get the bigger end of the stick."
Metts currently faces at least 20 years in jail if convicted. He could head to trial as soon as September.