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Lawyers for suspended South Carolina sheriff say some charges should be dismissed

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COLUMBIA, South Carolina — Attorneys for South Carolina's longest-serving sheriff will soon argue in court that some charges in a federal corruption case against their client should be dismissed.

Next week, lawyers representing suspended Lexington County Sheriff James Metts and federal prosecutors will be in court to discuss the arguments, which are already filed in court. Metts is accused of taking bribes from a restaurant owner in exchange for releasing some of his employees who had been detained for being in the country illegally.

Metts and three other men have been accused as part of a federal corruption scheme. Authorities have said Metts took bribes from restaurant owner Greg Leon in exchange for releasing some his employees who had been detained for being in the country illegally.

According to prosecutors, former Lexington Town Councilman Danny Frazier participated in that scheme and bribed former South Congaree Police Chief Jason Amodio in exchange for seized gambling machines.

All four men have pleaded not guilty. Indictments in Metts' case detail phone calls between the sheriff and Frazier, who prosecutors say acted as a go-between for Leon, the owner of several Mexican restaurants.

Metts accepted an envelope of cash in exchange for keeping some of the restaurants' employees from ending up in federal databases of immigrants who weren't supposed to be in the U.S., the indictment said.

In searches of offices at the sheriff's department, court documents show that agents have seized computers, appointment books, written notes, incident reports, an iPhone and a cassette tape in a recorder attached to a telephone in Metts' office.

Metts signed an agreement with the government under which some of his deputies were trained by Immigration, Customs and Enforcement agents on how to screen and report people they arrested who were found to be in the United States illegally. Earlier this month, Metts' lawyers filed papers denying that the sheriff interfered with that process but also saying that, if he did, at worst their client broke a voluntary reporting contract with the Department of Homeland Security and committed no crime.

"Such alleged non-reporting does not amount to obstruction of DHS proceedings, fraud against the United States, or harboring aliens," his lawyers wrote.

Metts also faces a conspiracy charge, which his lawyers said should be dropped. His lawyers did not address the bribery allegations but said that their client denies all charges.

In a response filed in court last week, prosecutors wrote that Metts conspired to set up the bribery arrangement and should be tried on all 10 counts against him.

"Regardless of whether Metts was obligated to affirmatively cooperate with ICE, his conspiratorial agreement to take affirmative action to interfere and obstruct the identification and processing of certain illegal aliens is criminal," prosecutors wrote. "This was an agreement to take active steps to interfere and obstruct so as to conceal and harbor certain illegal aliens."

Metts' trial is slated to begin Jan. 20, and officials have said they expect it to last about two weeks.

Metts has been suspended from the office he has held since 1972. He is the eighth sheriff in South Carolina to be charged or investigated in the last four years.


Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP

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