- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 24, 2007

RICHMOND — A former rural county sheriff pleaded guilty yesterday to lying to authorities about a scheme to sell drugs and guns seized from criminals, attorneys said.

Former Henry County Sheriff H. Franklin Cassell admitted to making false statements to federal investigators looking into corruption in his department, defense attorneys John Fishwick and John Lichtenstein said.

Under the plea agreement filed in U.S. District Court in Roanoke, prosecutors dropped four other charges related to charges that Cassell looked the other way as drugs and guns seized by the department were resold to the public.

“Frank Cassell violated the public’s trust and his oath as a member of law enforcement,” U.S. Attorney John Brownlee said. “With today’s guilty plea, Frank Cassell has been held responsible for his actions.”

The charge against Cassell carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Federal sentencing guidelines suggest a sentence of six to 12 months with an option for home confinement, according to the agreement.

Sentencing is expected in August.

Cassell, 69, and 12 current and former members of his department, as well as seven other persons, were indicted in the corruption case last fall. All but three have pleaded guilty to charges that included racketeering conspiracy, narcotics distribution and weapons counts.

At the hearing before Judge James Turk, the former sheriff took responsibility for his actions and apologized to the people of Henry County.

Prosecutors said that since 1998, cocaine, steroids, marijuana and other drugs that had been seized by the sheriff’s department were resold. Among those involved were vice officers and a dog handler for the department.

A sergeant who agreed to cooperate with investigators was paid off by the ring to use his house for distributing drugs, authorities said.

Cassell retired as sheriff shortly after the 48-count indictment was returned and had maintained his innocence. He was set for a two-week jury trial next month.

Cassell, a career law-enforcement officer, had been sheriff since 1992 in the economically distressed county of about 58,000 residents along the North Carolina line. He previously was with the state police.

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