FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
MONDAY - June 2, 2008
FORMER BRUNSWICK COUNTY SHERIFF PLEADS GUILTY
RALEIGH - United States Attorney George E.B. Holding announced that RONALD E. HEWETT, 44, of Supply, North Carolina, pled guilty in federal court in Raleigh, North Carolina today pursuant to a plea agreement. United States District Judge W. Earl Britt accepted HEWETT’s plea of guilty to one count of corruptly endeavoring to obstruct justice, specifically, obstruction of a federal grand jury investigation into allegations of corruption of his office as Sheriff of Brunswick County, North Carolina.
HEWETT could receive a maximum sentence of ten years’ imprisonment, a fine of $250,000, and three years of supervised release. His actual sentence will be determined by the court using the United States Sentencing Guidelines, which are advisory. Sentencing has been set for September 8, 2008.
As part of his plea agreement, HEWETT agreed to waive Indictment by a federal grand jury. The criminal investigation that resulted in HEWETT’s conviction has been ongoing for over a year.
As noted by the Government during the plea hearing, HEWETT was elected Sheriff of Brunswick County in 1994 and served in that capacity until late March of 2008. During the last few years of HEWETT’s tenure, he had made the deputies aware, again and again, that he had the power to fire anyone “at will” for whatever reason he chose. At staff meetings the Sheriff made clear to deputies that he was personally responsible for their paychecks, that he made it possible for them to pay their mortgages and feed their family, and that he expected each deputy to repay him by showing their gratitude.
In approximately December of 2006, the Government began investigating allegations that HEWETT had obstructed the criminal investigation of a relative and was misusing of public funds by ordering deputies, while on duty, to perform manual labor at his house and work on his political campaigns. On Thursday, June 7, 2007, state and federal agents served 25 federal grand jury subpoenas on HEWETT and numerous deputies for the June and July grand juries. Almost immediately after receiving the subpoenas, HEWETT began meeting with his deputies and attempting to tamper with their testimony. On the Monday, June 11, 2007, HEWETT circulated a memorandum which stated that on advice of counsel he would not discuss the grand jury matter with other individuals under subpoena. Notwithstanding this memo, HEWETT continued to seek out and confront potential grand jury witnesses and attempt to tamper with their grand jury testimony.
HEWETT began instructing his deputies to either assert their Fifth Amendment privilege or to be vague in their answers at grand jury. As HEWETT noted to one Captain: “what you don’t tell, you don’t have to explain.” HEWETT and his wife had their son deliver a note to a grand jury witness which contained the words the witness would need to read in grand jury in order to invoke his Fifth Amendment privilege.
As the investigation continued, HEWETT resorted to more direct threats of retaliation. For example, HEWETT approached a deputy just prior to the deputy’s grand jury appearance, inquired as to how the deputy would pay his mortgage without a job and that the deputy had a lot to lose. HEWETT arranged for a Chaplain to attend staff meetings and instruct deputies that they should not cooperate with evil on the witness stand and that while on the witness stand they should not be swayed in their testimony.
Finally, HEWETT began to retaliate against persons he thought were testifying at grand jury or were cooperating with the federal investigation by taking away their police vehicles and taking away their authority. The Government also quoted from the following noted that during a tape-recorded conversation between HEWETT and Captain Holden:
HEWETT: “If they get me on that damn witness tampering . . . I’m gone.”
HOLDEN: “You ain’t tampered with no witnesses.”
HEWETT:“Oh hell yes. Look it up . . . it’s a damn federal statute.”
United States Attorney Holding said, “The investigation and prosecution of public corruption is one of our office’s highest priorities. Ronald Hewett unlawfully obstructed a grand jury investigation into corruption of his office, and he’s being held accountable for it in federal court. He’s being held accountable for those acts of corruption by the charges the state authorities have brought.”
“Ron Hewett pleading guilty today proves no one is above the law. I would like to thank the courageous Brunswick County Sheriff’s deputies who risked their jobs to come forward and provide vital information to investigators. I would also like to thank the State Bureau of Investigation for its pivotal role in this investigation. The FBI relies on strong partnerships with other agencies to make sure justice is served no matter who stands accused,” said Nathan Gray, Special Agent in Charge of the Charlotte Division of the FBI.
Attorney General Roy Cooper stated: “Wrongdoing by officers who have sworn to uphold the law is especially troubling. I commend our SBI agents and federal authorities, who have diligently worked together to uncover public corruption.”
The criminal investigation is being conducted jointly by the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the United States Postal Inspection Service, in conjunction with the United States Attorney’s Office. First Assistant United States Attorney John Stuart Bruce and Assistant United States Attorney Dennis M. Duffy are prosecuting the case for the United States.
The investigation is continuing.
News releases are available on the U. S. Attorney’s web page at www.usdoj.gov/usao/nce within 48 hours of release.