Ex-sheriff Robert Arnold headed off to prison for 50 months, getting transferred from an Atlanta penitentiary to a Federal Prison Camp in Alabama, in June. He pled guilty to wire fraud, honest services fraud and extortion – then during the lead up to sentencing he also committed domestic assault, witness tampering and the intimidation of his wife.
Arnold was an initial investor in Jailcigs, putting up $3,000. The company sold two types of electronic cigarettes, designed for use in prison environments. The company’s products were put into Arnold’s Rutherford County jail system without any competitive bidding process. It is said that JailCigs sold $156,975 of e-cigarettes to inmates up to the point where Arnold was arrested. He pled guilty to having made $66,000 off the sale of the vape products, Russell (Arnold’s former administrative chief deputy) made $52,000 and Vanderveer (Arnold’s uncle) made $49,000.
During the same period of time, Arnold presided over an increasingly anarchic police department that frequently indulged itself in illegal beatings and assaults. Each time he would speak in defence of his officers and take no action.
As part of his plea bargain, Arnold agreed to make good on the money he made from his criminal endeavours – agreeing to pay it all back to the state. Unfortunately Joe Russell doesn’t feel so disposed.While he pled guilty to wire fraud, honest services and Hobbs Act extortion, he is fighting tooth and nail not to have to pay any money.
The prosecuting team are demanding Russell faces a three-year stint in prison, combined with the seizure of his assets to the value of $52,234. This is in addition to $52,500 that Russell, Arnold and Vanderveer agreed to pay back between them.
It relates to a proposed $5, then $2, then no-dollar commission payable per ecig sold in the country jails. Russell’s plea deal states: “Arnold had become frustrated with the mayor and the county commission during the annual budgeting process, and wanted to deny them additional revenue from the jail out of spite. In addition, Arnold was up for re-election as sheriff, and believed that he needed extra money to help with his campaign. Had the commissions actually been paid to Rutherford County, there would have been significantly less money on hand for JailCigs to operate and expand, and make payments to Arnold, Russell and Vanderveer.”
In other words, it was the sheriff’s entire fault, probably not the best excuse a court has had placed before it.