James Metts says he didn't realize he was violating the law

James Metts says he didn't realize he was violating the law
Published: Apr. 28, 2015 at 9:11 PM EDT|Updated: May. 15, 2015 at 2:50 PM EDT
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LEXINGTON COUNTY, SC (WIS) - It could take another month and a half before we know where former Lexington County Sheriff James Metts will serve his prison sentence and when that will begin.

The veteran sheriff's hopes for a sentence that did not include prison time came crashing down Monday when federal Judge Terry Wooten rejected Metts' plea for probation and community service.

The judge told Metts that as a chief law enforcer, he'd shown a lack of respect for the law. But questions remain about the law Metts broke and what he says he knew.

It all started with a federal program designed to pair up local law enforcement agencies with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers to identify, detain, and ultimately help deport undocumented immigrants.

The Lexington County Sheriff's Department entered an agreement with the federal government on this program, which is known as 287G. Lexington County's was one of only three sheriff's departments in the state taking an active role in the program.

The sheriff, his staff, and their partners at ICE targeted more than a thousand illegals. But Metts skipped two of them, stepping in at the request of people he knew to prevent the feds from removing those men who worked for the owner of a Mexican restaurant chain.

Metts admitted that was wrong, saying at the time he didn't realize he was violating the law.

"I was asked several times by Mr. Frazier to help in these situations and my command staff and I got together and we realized that we shouldn't be doing that," Metts said.

Frazier -- is Danny Frazier -- who served on Lexington town council and in a part-time job with the sheriff's department. Metts claimed he really didn't have any sort of relationship with Frazier.

"I knew him simply because he was a town councilman and he was involved in politics," Metts said. "I never actually fraternized with him or socialized with him."

Metts also explained why Frazier was on his staff.

"And that was because I was asked by a county councilman to give him a part-time job because he was in the business of building and leasing buildings to individuals and when the 2008, I call it depression, hit us, he was hurting for income," Metts said. "And at the time we had done a major strategic planning process and we felt what we needed to do was strengthen our role with the business community, mainly contractors and builders."

Metts also indicated no close ties to Greg Leon and denied taking any money from him.

"I know of Greg Leon," Metts said. "I know he was involved in running some restaurants. But I really personally don't know him well, but I know of him.

"I never accepted any money from anyone for any reason. I admitted to violating the statute after I read it. But never, never did I accept any money."

But why would the deeply experienced sheriff, who had overseen the program through hundreds of previous cases, move to short circuit the process now?

"I was big at community service and one of the things we stressed in our department is helping individuals. And when I received phone calls from Danny Frazier in regard to finding people who were in jail and helping get them out, I called the office and found out these people were in jail and I did find out they were in for minor misdemeanors, which at the time the federal government was releasing those individuals without them being held and deported," Metts said.

Frazier and Leon have been indicted, but have yet to stand trial.

It's important to note as Metts pointed out that there is no proof of bribery in his case. In fact, there isn't even an allegation because the government dropped nine of the original ten counts in his indictment in exchange for his guilty plea.

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