MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (WKRN) – Rutherford County Sheriff Robert Arnold and two others were indicted by a grand jury Thursday following an ongoing investigation.
News 2 was there when Arnold arrived to the courthouse Friday morning about 8 a.m. to turn himself in.
He now faces 14 charges, including one count of conspiracy, three counts of money property fraud, four counts of honest services fraud, two counts of bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds, one count of extortion under color of official right, and one count of attempt to tamper with a witness by corrupt persuasion.
Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office Administrative Chief Deputy Joe Russell and Arnold’s uncle, John Vanderveer, were also named in the indictments.
Acting U.S. Attorney Jack Smith addressed the indictments later Wednesday saying, “The overwhelming majority of law enforcement officers in the Middle District of Tennessee and across this nation have a deep and abiding sense of duty to the people they serve.”
He continued, “We never want to allow the illegal and self-serving actions of a few to unfairly brand the unsung heroes who every day place the safety and security of their communities above their own needs. Today we thank those officers for their dedication and service and for this reason we will always pursue justice for those whose actions attempt to discredit the profession.”
Some say the indictment should lead to the sheriff’s resignation; however, officials told News 2 Saturday that Arnold does not plan to leave his job.
Arnold has been the focus of an investigation by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation for over a year since April 2015.
About a month later, the sheriff’s office and home were raided by both the Tennessee and federal bureaus of investigation.
While the TBI has yet to say exactly what they were looking into, the investigation happened around the same time the sheriff was found to be a benefactor of e-cigarettes sold at the Rutherford County jail.
The JailCigs company is owned by his aunt and uncle in Georgia, and his wife was a part-time employee when the facts came to light.
At the time, Sheriff Arnold told News 2 he errantly filled out the form that lists his sources of income, and the cigarette company is in fact not a source of income. He noted if any money made from the company ended up in his bank account, it was “pretty much” because his wife worked there.
The indictment claims Arnold, Russell and Vanderveer knowingly conspired to commit offenses against the United States by devising a scheme to defraud and obtain money and property from Rutherford County under false and fraudulent pretenses.
The indictments allege Arnold committed conspiracy by using his official position to allow JailCigs to be admitted into the Rutherford County jail, distributing and permitting jail employees to do tasks beneficial to JailCigs, promoting JailCigs to additional sheriff’s offices and counties, and permitting JailCigs not to pay Rutherford County the customary commission paid to other counties in Tennessee.
Additionally, Russell and Vanderveer are accused of bribing and offering Arnold kickbacks, including the opportunity to invest in JailCigs and tens of thousands of dollars in payments, according to the indictment.
All three men allegedly concealed Arnold and Russell’s involvement with JailCigs from Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office employees, officials, officials in other counties, and citizens of Rutherford County.
The indictments claim Arnold, Russell and Vanderveer made false and misleading statements they had obtained approval from the county auditors and attorney for the agreement between Rutherford County and JailCigs.
Arnold allegedly made false and misleading statements to the media about his role in and knowledge of JailCigs in order to protect the company’s ongoing business.
The men are further accused of attempting to tamper with a witness by directing her to destroy documents showing JailCigs to Arnold and Russell when they learned of the TBI investigation.
The indictments claim sales of JailCigs began in October 2013 and continued until April 2015, and records indicate 10,500 e-cigarettes were delivered to inmates at the Rutherford County jail during that time.
Based on the unit price and shipping, revenue generated from JailCigs totaled approximately $156,975.
Beginning in December 2013, JailCigs began making payments to Arnold, Russell and Vanderveer on a regular basis.
According to the indictments, Arnold received $66,790, Russell received $52,234.41 and Vanderveer received $49,545.50.
While Arnold was running for re-election in 2014, he allegedly received four checks from JailCigs totaling $22,634, which was reportedly deposited into the “Arnold for Rutherford County Sheriff” bank account. During that time, Russell and Vanderveer allegedly received slightly more than $5,000 each.
Charges in this case carry maximum penalties of between five to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Friday’s hearing was an initial appearance. None of the three men entered a plea at this time as that will take place at an arraignment, which is being held June 7 at 1:30 p.m.
Arnold, Russell and Vanderveer were all released on an unsecured bond of $250,000, which means they don’t have to put up any money or property at this time but agree to make all future court appearances. If they don’t, they’ll have to pay bond.
Russell and Vanderveer both asked for a public defender, and Vandeveer will be allowed to go back to Georgia but still has to follow the rules of his release.