Rutherford County Sheriff Robert Arnold appeared before a federal judge on 13 charges related to claims he defrauded the county of thousands of dollars through the sale of e-cigarettes to inmates.
The sheriff arrived at the U.S. District courthouse in Nashville just before 8 a.m. Friday with his attorney.
In the indictment filed Thursday, Sheriff Arnold was named, along with both the Chief Deputy of Administration at the Rutherford County Sheriff's Office, identified as Joe L. Russell, II, and Arnold's uncle, identified as John Vanderveer.
Inside federal court, the clinking sound of chains could be heard as all three men were escorted in by U.S. Marshals. They were bound by handcuffs and shackles after turning themselves in to authorities on Friday morning.
It was a strange role reversal of sorts for Sheriff Arnold who has typically been the one escorting defendants into court.
Arnold, Russell, and Vanderveer have been charged with the following:
- Count 1: Conspiracy
- Counts 2-5: Money/property fraud (wire fraud)
- Counts 6-10: Honest services fraud
- Count 11 (Arnold only): Bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds (soliciting, demanding, accepting)
- Count 12 (Russell/Vanderveer): Bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds (giving, offering)
- Count 13: Extortion under color of official right
- Count 14: Attempt to tamper with a witness by corrupt persuasion
To view the entire indictment, including an explanation, maximum sentence, and maximum fine for each count, click here.
The three have all been accused of using a company called JailCigs, LLC to funnel money to their personal accounts. JailCigs, run by Vanderveer, sold e-cigerattes to inmates in the Rutherford County jail, and according to court documents, allowed Sheriff Arnold to pocket the money from sales personally instead of putting them in the county's general fund.
If convicted of all charges, the three men could face the possibility of 95 years in jail.
The two-term sheriff moved little as he sat in court Friday morning, staring blankly ahead at Judge John Bryant. To the sheriff's right sat Deputy Russell and Vanderveer.
"You are here for your initial appearance on indictments that you've been charged with violation of laws of the United States," Judge Bryant told all three men.
After reading the list of charges, Judge Bryant asked Sheriff Arnold if he understood the maximum penalty if convicted.
"Yes sir, your honor," Sheriff Arnold said.
"You're going to be released today," the Judge said.
All three men, including Sheriff Arnold, were released on a $250,000 bond. Under the conditions of their release they cannot leave Middle Tennessee and were forced to surrender their passports.
It was unclear how the indictment would impact Arnold's position as sheriff, but officials in Rutherford County said he's still their lead law enforcement agent.
Arnold spoke off-camera briefly with NewsChannel 5 after he was released saying he has not done anything wrong and will fight all charges.
The investigation has been ongoing for more than a year by both the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
During a press conference Friday at 11 a.m. the director of the TBI said they did not want the indictment to take away from the good the majority of law enforcement has done.
U.S. District Attorney: "We never want illegal actions to unfairly brand unsung heroes who put their lives on the line" @NC5
— Chris Conte (@NC5_ChrisConte) May 27, 2016
The U.S. District Attorney also spoke during the conference saying, “These are only allegations." He added the defendants remain presumed innocent.
According to those at the press conference and the indictment, each defendant profited financially from the scheme, receiving tens of thousands of dollars from the sale of e-cigarettes. They added Arnold allegedly made false and misleading statements to the media.
Friday afternoon, Steve Lane with Tennesseans Against Corruption reacted to the indictment saying, "We hope this is going to be the first step to restoring the dignity and pride of that sheriff's department."
In May 2015, multiple locations were raided by officials, including Arnold’s office and home, among other places.
The indictment stated if the defendants happened to be convicted they "shall forfeit to the United States of America... any property, real or personal, which constitutes or is derived from proceeds traceable to the offenses. Such forfeitable property includes a sum of money equal to the amount of proceeds obtained as a result of the offenses, for which the defendants are jointly and severally liable."