Rutherford sheriff charged with fraud, bribery, conspiracy

Federal charges have been filed against Rutherford County Sheriff Robert Arnold accusing him of pocketing more than $66,000 through JailCigs, a Georgia e-cigarette company he and others owned, reports The Tennessean.

The case names Arnold, Chief Deputy of Administration and Finance Joe Russell and John Vanderveer, Arnold’s uncle, as defendants. Each is charged with 13 counts.

“Cases like this involving public officials take a great deal of care, time and effort to investigate,” acting U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee Jack Smith said during a Friday morning news conference.

The indictment says Arnold, 40, Russell, 49, and Vanderveer, 58, gave favorable treatment to JailCigs at the Rutherford County jail in exchange for bribes and kickbacks. It says they pocketed money that should have gone to the county from the sale of the cigarettes.

Arnold received more than $66,000 from 2013 to 2015; Russell more than $52,000; and Vanderveer more than $49,000, according to the charges.

And then, the indictment says, the men tried to cover up their involvement in the company. The indictment says Arnold did not disclose he had received money from the company to the Tennessee Ethics Commission in 2014, while he was running for sheriff.

Smith said during the press conference that in addition to lying to county officials, Arnold lied to the press while he was under investigation.

In April 2015, Vanderveer met with a Tennessee sales representative for JailCigs and told her that “Joe” wanted her to destroy records of commission payments from the county going to “Robert or any of us,” Smith said.

The charges are: conspiracy; four counts of wire fraud; five counts of honest services fraud; bribery concerning federal programs, extortion; and attempting to tamper with a witness corrupt persuasion. Smith said if convicted, some of the counts carry up to 20 years in prison.