Lexington, SC (WLTX) - Lexington County Sheriff James Metts has been indicted by a federal grand jury on accusations of taking bribes.
The 10-count indictment was handed down Tuesday against the state's longest serving sheriff. In response, Governor Nikki Haley suspended Metts from office and appointed Lewis McCarty to fill his role.
McCarty, 72, had a 37-year career in law enforcement before retiring in 1999. " My number one priority is maintaining integrity and public confidence in this Department," McCarty said in a statement. Related Coverage:Haley Calls Up Retired Deputy to Be Sheriff
Metts, 68, is accused by U.S attorneys of taking the bribes from friends to interfere with the proper identification and processing of certain illegal aliens at the Lexington County Jail.
Two men--46-year-old Danny Frazier and 47-year-old Greg Leon--named as the people who gave the bribes; both of them have been been indicted by a state grand jury for their role. Frazier is a former Lexington Town Councilman who resigned earlier this year, while Leon owns a group of Mexican restaurants in the Midlands.
In the 28-page indictment , prosecutors say the alleged illegal activity began around September of 2011. According to the document, Metts would be notified if an illegal alien working for Leon was arrested and detained. Prosecutors allege Metts would then contact his command staff and other employees to give Leon's employees preferential treatment, making it difficult for federal immigration officials to process and identify them.
The indictment goes on to give several specific examples of the three men calling each other back and forth after a Leon employee was arrested. The employee would then be released, according to investigators, and Metts would get cash as payment for his help.
The state indictment says Frazier would act as a middle man, collecting the money from Leon, taking a fee for himself, then passing the rest of the payment on to Metts.
Beginning in 2012, Frazier worked as a business liaison for the sheriff's department. He later gave up that post.
When contacted by News19 late Tuesday afternoon, Metts said he was "surprised" by the indictment and referred further questions to his lawyer, Sherri A. Lydon.
Lydon released the followed statement: "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.."
"Public corruption at any level will not be tolerated," said United States Attorney Bill Nettles in a statement. "These indictments are a product of a new team at the United States Attorney's Office whose goal is to use an unprecedented level of cooperation with state and federal agencies in routing out public corruption and returning public trust to the people."
Officially, Metts is charged with Conspiracy to Violate Federal Law and Interfere with Government Function (18 U.S.C. §371), Use of Interstate Facility to Facilitate Bribery in violation of South Carolina Code Sections 8-13-705 and 16-9-220 (18 U.S.C. §1952), Use of Interstate Wire to Defraud the Citizens of Lexington County of Their Right to Honest Services (18 U.S.C. §1343, 1346), and Conspiracy to Harbor Illegal Aliens (8 U.S.C. §1324).
The investigation included help from the U.S Attorney General's Office, FBI, SLED, the South Carolina Attorney General's Office, and Homeland Security Investigations.
Metts has been sheriff since 1972. He began working with the agency as a dispatcher in 1967.
The indictments come on the same day that former South Congaree Police Chief Jason Amodio was indicted on a charge of misconduct in office related to gaming machines. Related Coverage: Former Police Chief Indicted South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson called the events an "unprecedented" level of cooperation between law enforcement agencies to expose public corruption in Lexington County.