POLITICS

South Carolina's Longest-Serving Sheriff Sentenced In Corruption Case

04/27/2015 03:26 pm ET | Updated Jun 27, 2015

April 27 (Reuters) - The man who was South Carolina's longest-serving sheriff before he pleaded guilty in a public corruption case involving illegal immigrants was sentenced on Monday to a year and a day in federal prison and fined $10,000, a U.S. Attorney's Office said.

Prosecutors said James Metts, 68, took bribes to prevent the deportation of illegal immigrants employed at a Mexican restaurant owned by one of his friends.

Metts led the sheriff's department in Lexington County for 42 years before being suspended from office in June 2014 after he was indicted on 10 criminal counts. He later resigned.

He pleaded guilty to one charge of conspiracy to harbor illegal immigrants in December as part of an agreement with prosecutors that included no sentencing conditions and dropped the other nine counts he faced.

U.S. District Judge Terry Wooten rejected a previous plea deal Metts reached that called for probation and no prison time.

The judge on Monday also ordered Metts to serve two years of supervised release, in addition to the year in prison.

Although the government had not sought prison time for Metts, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Richardson said the punishment sent a message that unlawful favors carried out by public officials as part of a "good old boy" network would not be tolerated.

Metts told reporters outside the courthouse in Columbia that he was "highly disappointed" in the judge's decision. His lawyers had sought to keep him out of prison by citing his long record of public service, charitable acts and medical problems.

"I'm going to serve my time, put it behind me and move on with my life in a very positive way," the former sheriff said. "It's been a long, long period of time, but at least now we have closure."

(Reporting by Colleen Jenkins in Winston-Salem, N.C.; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Eric Beech)

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