December 30, 2014

Former Lexington County Sheriff James R. Metts Pleads Guilty to Conspiring to Harbor and Conceal Illegal Aliens

COLUMBIA, SC—United States Attorney Bill Nettles stated today that James R. Metts, age 68, of Lexington, South Carolina, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to harbor and conceal illegal aliens, a violation of 8 U.S.C. § 1324(a)(1)(A)(v)(I). Chief United States District Judge Terry L. Wooten of Columbia accepted the guilty plea today in federal court in Columbia and will sentence Metts after he has reviewed the presentence report to be prepared by the U.S. Probation Office.

Bill Nettles remarked, “Prior to June he was Sheriff James Metts, the 42-year veteran Sheriff of Lexington County. When we finish, he will leave this courthouse Jimmy Metts, the felon, and the citizens of Lexington County can move forward. This result would not have been possible without the ongoing substantial cooperation to combat public corruption among an array of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies; the South Carolina Attorney General, Alan Wilson; and my office.”

Evidence presented at the change of plea hearing established that beginning in September 2011, Metts agreed with others—on the phone and in person—to assist illegal aliens incarcerated in the Lexington County Detention Center and subject to immigration processing pursuant to a cooperative federal immigration program. In doing so, Metts and his co-conspirators knew these aliens were present in the United States illegally. For example, on September 16, an illegal alien was arrested. After Metts received a call from his co-conspirator the next morning, Metts intervened on behalf of the illegal alien. Based on Metts’ early intervention, this alien was released on a state bond prior to being identified or processed by federal immigration authorities as reflected in the federal immigration logbook with the notation, “Release per Sheriff Metts.”

Mr. Nettles stated the maximum penalty for Conspiracy to Harbor and Conceal Illegal Aliens is imprisonment for 10 years and/or a fine of $250,000. In the plea agreement filed with the Court, the Government agreed that a sentence of three years of probation was an appropriate resolution for Metts.

The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Homeland Security Investigation, State Law Enforcement Division (SLED), the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office, and the United States Attorney’s Office. Assistant United States Attorneys Jay N. Richardson and Jim H. May are prosecuting the case.