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Suspended Lexington County Sheriff James Metts leaves the Matthew J. Perry Federal Courthouse in Columbia, S.C. on Tuesday, July 1, 2014, after pleading not guilty to federal misconduct charges and being released on a $100,000 bond. South Carolina's longest-serving sheriff is accused of lining his pockets by doing favors for friends. (AP Photo/The State, Tim Dominick)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The longest-serving sheriff in South Carolina, Lexington County Sheriff James Metts, has pleaded not guilty to federal bribery and fraud charges. But sheriffs charged under the laws they are supposed to uphold is nothing unusual in South Carolina these days. Metts is the eighth in four years to run into legal problems.

Prosecutors 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.

The sheriff's office is typically an important seat of power in South Carolina, where strict incorporation laws mean 65 percent of the state's residents don't live in cities or towns. Sheriffs often control jails, can hire and fire anyone and have tight control over finances — in Oconee County, the sheriff's office gets nearly 15 percent of the $43 million budget for the county of about 74,000 people. They also choose what their deputies concentrate on, meaning drugs may be a focus in one county while it's traffic control in another.

A look at the lineup of those who have run into legal trouble:

E.J. MELVIN, LEE COUNTY

Melvin is serving 17 years in prison after his November 2010 conviction on more than three dozen drug conspiracy charges. Prosecutors said he ruled Lee County like a kingpin, soliciting bribes from drug dealers and extorting businessmen. One witness told an FBI agent that a longtime drug dealer had told him, "If it wasn't for E.J., I wouldn't be doing the things that I do."

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MICHAEL JOHNSON, WILLIAMSBURG COUNTY

Johnson faces federal kickback charges after he was accused of creating fake police reports saying people had their identities stolen for a friend who ran a credit-repair business. The fake reports kept more than $11 million in bad debts off more than 130 credit reports from March 2012 until August 2013, prosecutors said.

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SAM PARKER, CHESTERFIELD COUNTY

Parker was convicted earlier this year of giving away guns from his department without the proper paperwork and allowing untrained people to act as deputies. Prosecutors said Parker gave away confiscated weapons, including an M-14 semi-automatic rifle, to friends who were not deputies.

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AL CANNON, CHARLESTON COUNTY

Cannon was charged with third-degree assault and battery after admitting he slapped a handcuffed man in the face after the man led deputies on a 120-mph chase in January 2012. Charged with a misdemeanor, Cannon was eligible for pre-trial intervention and remains in office.

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JASON BOOTH, SALUDA COUNTY, AND CHARLES GOODWIN, ABBEVILLE COUNTY

Both Booth and Goodwin pleaded guilty to misusing state inmate labor. Both avoided jail time.

Prosecutors said Booth allowed an inmate to live in a trailer outside of prison and have conjugal visits with his girlfriend in exchange for building a party shed, ornate gate and other projects at the sheriff's home.

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LARRY WILLIAMS, ORANGEBURG COUNTY

Orangeburg County officials sued the estate of the late Williams, saying he took more than $200,000 in public money for personal use. Williams died before the case could be prosecuted. The lawsuit says Williams used the money for personal expenses, including paying off a $60,000 loan on an RV.