NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee sheriff pleaded guilty Thursday to federal civil rights charges related to using his position to have sex with jail inmates multiple times since July.
Fentress County Sheriff Charles Cravens agreed to the plea deal for three counts of honest services fraud and one count of deprivation of rights under color of law.
The maximum penalty for the charges is up to 21 years in prison and up to $350,000 in fines, the plea deal states.
Authorities executed a search warrant on the sheriff’s office last week. Cravens was charged Thursday and pleaded guilty shortly afterward in federal court in Nashville, wearing jeans and a short-sleeved button-down shirt in court and answering the judge with “yes ma’am” and “no ma’am.”
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A federal charging document says the 47-year-old sheriff summoned a female jail inmate to his office for sex in July.
Cravens then devised a plan to cover for that inmate and another to leave the jail, where they hauled cornstalks away from the facility so the sheriff could drive them to a trailer and have sex with them both, the information states. He had sex with both on multiple other occasions and told them not to tell anyone about it.
Cravens then drove another inmate to see a relative outside the county, and on the way back to the jail, they had sex in his car, said Acting U.S. Attorney Jack Smith. Several of the various sexual encounters happened in an official sheriff’s office car.
In exchange, the sheriff helped transport the inmates himself from the jail to visit relatives, gave their relatives money to deposit into the inmates’ jail commissary accounts, and also let them smoke outside the jail, sometimes providing the cigarettes, the charging document states.
One inmate used a jail phone to call Cravens 349 times, while the other two called 332 and 51 times.
Smith says that in November, Cravens also kicked an inmate in his backside, placed him in a headlock while other officers handcuffed him, and Cravens punched him in the head twice.
At a news conference Thursday, Smith said the conduct of a “few bad actors” should not be reflective of the many hardworking men and women in law enforcement.
“I know that those officers have no sympathy for the rare colleague who chooses to engage in behavior that tarnishes the reputation that they work so hard to uphold,” Smith said. “Our citizens deserve public officials who serve their constituents and don’t serve their own personal interests.”
In a joint statement, Fentress County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Gary Ledbetter and County Executive J. Michael Cross said they were “disappointed and shocked” by Cravens’ past actions and admissions.
Cravens’ attorney, Alex Little, said he would comment later in the day.
Cravens was first elected sheriff in September 2006. His plea deal says he resigns effective April 28.
Cravens’ sentencing is scheduled for July 20.
This version corrects spelling of Cravens’ name and day to Thursday.