A second guilty plea in Rutherford County sheriff corruption case

Joe Russell, former administration chief for the Rutherford County sheriff’s office, pleaded guilty Friday for his role in illegally profiting off inmates through JailCigs sales at the county jail, reports the Daily News Journal.

Russell, who was fired in November, joined co-defendant and ex-sheriff Robert Arnold this week in entering identical guilty pleas.

Arnold pleaded guilty to wire fraud, honest services fraud and extortion Wednesday after receiving $66,790 from JailCigs electronic cigarette sales from December 2013 through April 2015, court records show. Russell received $52,234 from the company over that same period, according to a Tennessee Comptroller report released Nov. 16.

U.S. District Court  Judge Kevin Sharp asked Russell if the fired administration chief understood waiving rights to a jury trial by pleading guilty.

“Yes, your honor,” said Russell, who’s guilty plea agreement with the government is under seal.

Fellow co-defendant John Vanderveer, the uncle of Arnold, has not entered a guilty plea, and continues to await a Feb. 7 jury trial in Nashville and face a 14-count federal grand jury indictment issued in late May 2016.

The judge scheduled Russell’s sentencing hearing at 1:30 p.m. May 19, which follows the 10:30 a.m. May 8 sentencing hearing for Arnold.

Each count, at the judge’s discretion, carries up to 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, supervised release of not more than three years and a $52,500 restitution payment from electronic cigarettes revenues from the JailCigs business to the Rutherford County government.

“I am not bound by that,” Sharp told Russell. “Your sentence could be more harsh or less harsh.”

Inmates at the county jail ordered about 10,500 JailCigs. Arnold initially had planned to share a $5 cut per $12.95 order with the county government, but decided after being upset with county commissioners and the mayor in 2014 to keep the “commission owed to Rutherford County,” prosecuting attorney Mark Cipolletti said.

“He believed he would need extra money for his campaign,” said Cipolletti, noting that JailCigs revenues paid for about half of an Arnold campaign event.

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