Columbia restaurateur admits he hired people in U.S. illegally

COLUMBIA — A restaurant owner is the latest person to plead guilty in an immigration scheme that brought down South Carolina’s longest-serving sheriff.

U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles says 49-year-old Gregorio Leon pleaded guilty Wednesday to engaging in a pattern and practice of hiring illegal aliens.

Earlier this year, Leon filed paperwork to change his plea and agreeing to pay a fine of $180,000. The rest of Leon’s federal sentence will be determined later.

Prosecutors say Leon was involved in hiring about 60 people who were in the country illegally and paid then-Lexington County Sheriff James Metts several times for helping out when one of those employees got arrested.

Metts has pleaded guilty to keeping Leon’s workers out of the immigration system and is serving a 10-month sentence.