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South Carolina's longest-serving sheriff has been indicted on bribery charges, according to federal prosecutors, making him the eighth sheriff in the state to face criminal charges or investigations in the past four years.
U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles said Tuesday that the 68-year-old Lexington County Sheriff James Metts faces 10 charges of taking bribes. He is also charged with wire fraud and conspiracy.
Court documents say Metts allowed friends to buy favors, accepting cash in return for agreeing to assist people who were in the country illegally and who were being detained. (Read the indictment in PDF.)
The indictment detailed several alleged phone calls between Metts and a former Lexington Town councilman, who it alleged was acting as a go-between for the owner of several Mexican restaurants. The indictment alleges that Metts accepted an envelope full 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.
In office since 1972, the Republican has received a number of awards. Metts was a 2009 honoree of the Strom Thurmond Awards for Excellence in Law Enforcement, hosted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The award noted Metts’ implementation of mandatory drug testing for employees and his efforts to recruit women and members of minorities as deputies to better represent the community.
He holds a master’s degree in criminal justice and a doctorate in education from the University of South Carolina.
It wasn't immediately known whether he was in custody.
His lawyer, Sherri Lydon, issued a statement on his behalf. "Sheriff Metts has dedicated his life to law enforcement and serving the citizens of Lexington County. He denies the allegations and looks forward to his day in court," she wrote.
Gov. Nikki Haley suspended Metts about an hour after the indictments were released and appointed a retired assistant sheriff as the acting sheriff.
Metts was first elected to office in 1972 at the age of 25. He's up for re-election in 2016.
The U.S. Attorney's Office wasn't available for additional comment Tuesday.