COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Saying he was a public official accused of serious charges, Judge Terry Wooten rejected the government's plea deal with former Lexington County Sheriff James Metts on Wednesday morning.
In his ruling, Wooten said three years probation was "not enough" for Metts as part of the deal negotiated with the federal government.
Metts, the former sheriff of the Lexington County Sheriff's Department entered a guilty plea for conspiracy to harbor certain aliens. The other charges against Metts, which included bribery and public corruption, would have been dropped as part of the plea deal.
While it is not clear if it was part of the deal, Metts also delivered a letter Tuesday morning to Gov. Nikki Haley to inform her of his retirement from the sheriff's department.
"It has been my honor and privilege to have served the citizens of Lexington County as their Sheriff for the past forty-two years and as a law enforcement officer for the past forty-eight years," the letter said.
Metts was indicted in June on charges that he received cash from former Lexington Town Councilman Danny Frazier and Gregorio Leon, the owner of several Mexican restaurants in the Columbia area, for circumventing a federal immigration program designed to aid the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement program in detaining those who were in the country illegally.
The sheriff initially issued a not guilty plea and vowed to fight the charges because, according to him, they were "nothing more than an attempt to discredit" him.
Metts was immediately suspended without pay from his job by Gov. Haley.
The plea agreement also does not require cooperation from Metts on any future government investigation. We spoke this afternoon to former US Attorney Pete Strom, who says an agreement like this is very standard.
"We see boilerplate language just like you would see in any other kind of contract day after day," Strom said. "A number of those provisions are not present here. The most obvious one is he is being guaranteed a sentence of three years of probation. Ninety-nine percent of the cases that go through the federal courts in South Carolina, the sentencing guidelines apply."