Jailed Rutherford Co. sheriff pleads guilty to 3 federal charges

Friday, January 13, 2017, Vol. 41, No. 2

NASHVILLE (AP) - A jailed Tennessee sheriff accused of profiting from the sale of electronic cigarettes to inmates pleaded guilty Wednesday to three federal charges.

Media outlets reported that former Rutherford County Sheriff Robert Arnold, 40, entered guilty pleas to wire fraud, honest services fraud and extortion. The move came three weeks before his trial was to begin on a 14-count indictment.

Details of the plea agreement weren't released in court. Arnold was scheduled to be sentenced May 8, but his attorneys have asked to move up the date. Each charge he pleaded guilty to carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Arnold has been suspended from his position since November. Last week, the Rutherford County Commission voted to appoint Michael Fitzhugh as interim sheriff.

Arnold was indicted in 2016 along with his former administrator Joe L. Russell II, and his uncle, John Vanderveer, of Marietta, Geo rgia, for their roles in forming and operating JailCigs LLC.

The indictment accused the trio of benefiting from a scheme to sell electronic cigarettes to inmates in the jail Arnold oversees while concealing who owned the business. It also said Arnold received commission payments that should have gone to the county.

"It's always disheartening when an elected official abuses the public's trust, especially someone sworn to uphold the law," Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director Mark Gwyn said in a statement. "We are grateful for the cooperation we have with our state and federal partner agencies in pursuing justice in this case and hope today's plea serves as a reminder to elected officials, of all types, that they are not above the law."