- Associated Press - Friday, May 27, 2016

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - A county sheriff is facing public corruption charges after being named in a 14-count indictment that accuses him and others of benefiting from a scheme to sell electronic cigarettes to inmates in the jail he oversees.

Acting U.S. Attorney Jack Smith said Friday that Rutherford County Sheriff Robert Arnold, county chief administrative deputy Joe Russell and Arnold’s uncle, John Vanderveer of Marietta, Georgia, have been charged.

“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,” Smith said in a statement. “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.”

The indictment alleges Arnold used his official position to promote the sale of electronic cigarettes in the jail in exchange for bribes and kickbacks from Russell and Vanderveer.

“He is going to enter a plea of not guilty and he expects to be acquitted by the jury,” said Tom Dundon, one of the attorneys who represent Arnold. Court documents do not name attorneys for Vanderveer and Russell.

A federal grand jury on Thursday charged the trio with honest services fraud, mail fraud, wire fraud, bribery concerning federal programs, extortion under color of official right, obstruction of justice, and conspiracy. Charges in the case carry maximum penalties of between five and 20 years in prison, the U.S. attorney’s office said.

The indictment alleges that in October of 2013 the three men each put in $3,000 to form JailCigs, a limited liability company that sold electronic cigarettes to jails. The company allowed friends and family members of inmates to go online and purchase the electronic cigarettes for the prisoners.

Approximately 10,500 electronic cigarettes purchased from the company went to the Rutherford County jail alone, the indictment alleges, resulting in nearly $157,000 in revenue to JailCigs. Each e-cigarette sold for $14.95, including shipping and handling.

Arnold, the indictment says, concealed his role in the company to others at the sheriff’s office and even within the county. The company did not go through the normal route of bidding on a contract, and the county never reaped any of the financial benefits of the sold e-cigarettes, court documents say. Other counties got a $5 commission for every e-cigarette sold, the indictment says, but Rutherford County did not.

The three are also accused of directing a salesperson to destroy documents that would implicate them in a federal crime.

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