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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Middle District of Tennessee

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Rutherford County, Tennessee Sheriff

Robert F. Arnold, 40, the suspended Sheriff of Rutherford County, pleaded guilty today in United States District Court to federal charges of fraud and corruption, announced Jack Smith, Acting U.S. Attorney for the administration of this case.

“Today, Robert Arnold admitted his guilt and participation in the brazen criminal scheme charged in the indictment brought against him by the grand jury,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Jack Smith.  “His guilty pleas hold him accountable for his criminal conduct and we look forward to the sentencing hearing in this matter. I would like to thank the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the FBI for their extraordinary work in investigating this case.  I’d also like to thank District Attorney General Jennings Jones for his assistance and cooperation, as well as the Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Section, who partnered with us on the prosecution of this case. As I have said in the past, the conduct of Arnold is in no way representative of the fine and often heroic work done daily by the law enforcement officers in our district. Finally, let me thank the citizens of Rutherford County for their patience while waiting for justice to be served in this case.”

Arnold was indicted in May 2016 along with his former Chief Administrative Deputy, Joe L. Russell II, 49, and Arnold’s uncle, John Vanderveer, 58, of Marietta, Georgia, for their roles in the formation and operation of JailCigs, LLC.  The indictment alleged that the defendants enriched themselves by selling electronic cigarettes, through JailCigs, LLC, to inmates at the Rutherford County jail, while concealing and misrepresenting Arnold and Russell’s ownership of the business, and paying Arnold commission payments that were in fact owed to Rutherford County.

In the hearing before Chief U.S. District Judge Kevin H. Sharp, Arnold admitted to forming JailCigs with Russell and Vanderveer in 2013; admitted that he used his official position as Sheriff of Rutherford County to benefit JailCigs by allowing its products to come into the Rutherford County jail and be distributed by county employees; admitted to taking steps to disguise his involvement in the company; admitted to misrepresenting the benefits that Rutherford County was supposedly receiving; admitted that he personally received over $66,000 from JailCigs; and admitted that he lied about his income from, and knowledge of, the company when he was confronted by local media in April 2015.

Arnold pleaded guilty to wire fraud, honest services fraud, and extortion under color of official right. Each of the crimes of conviction carries a maximum of up to 20 years in prison.  Under the terms of the plea agreement, Arnold agrees to pay restitution in the amount of $52,500 to Rutherford County. The plea agreement does not contain any agreement between the parties as to what the appropriate sentence should be.  

“This plea is the result of the hard work by the men and women of the FBI and our law enforcement partners,” said Michael T. Gavin, Special Agent in Charge of the Memphis Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.   “We all rely on those who hold positions of public trust to execute their duties with integrity and in the best interests of the public.  The FBI will continue to work with its partners to identify and investigate law enforcement officers who violate the law out of personal greed, which harms the reputations of all law enforcement officers, the majority of which are honest, hardworking men and women who serve with honor, integrity, and professionalism.”

“It's always disheartening when an elected official abuses the public's trust, especially someone sworn to uphold the law,” said TBI Director Mark Gwyn. “We are grateful for the cooperation we have with our state and federal partner agencies in pursuing justice in this case and hope today’s plea serves as a reminder to elected officials, of all types, that they are not above the law.” 

Arnold will be sentenced by Chief Judge Sharp on May 8, 2017.
This case was investigated by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the FBI.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Cecil W. VanDevender of the Middle District of Tennessee and Trial Attorney Mark Cipolletti of the Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Section are prosecuting the case.

Public Corruption
Updated January 18, 2017