NASHVILLE TN May 5 2017 — Former Rutherford County sheriff Robert Arnold will spend four years in prison for illegally selling electronic cigarettes to Rutherford County inmates, U.S. Judge Marvin Aspen ruled Thursday.
Arnold's sentencing comes nearly two years after the FBI and Tennessee Bureau of Investigation raided Arnold's home and office to investigate his involvement with the JailCigs business.
Aspen ruled Arnold must serve 50 months including 8 months’ time served.
In January, Arnold pleaded guilty to wire fraud, honest services fraud and extortion. His conviction represents three of the 14 federal grand jury indictments in late May 2016 that accused Arnold, his uncle John Vanderveer and Joe Russell, a former sheriff's administration chief, of illegally profiting off inmates through their JailCigs business.
The ex-sheriff offered JailCigs to the inmates at the Rutherford County Jail without going through the proper bidding process with the County Commission, which has authority over government contracts.
Arnold has been in jail since Sept. 28. He was first taken to Grayson County, Ken., but was transferred to the West Tennessee Detention Facility on Feb. 6.
By law, Arnold gave up his office once he pleaded guilty. Davidson County Chancellor William Young suspended Arnold without pay from his sheriff's duties in November.
The Rutherford County Commission appointed Mike Fitzhugh to serve as sheriff Jan. 12 until August 2018, when Arnold's four-year was set to expire. Fitzhugh plans to run for sheriff at that time.
Investigators said Arnold made $66,790 from his cut of JailCigs sales to inmates at multiple jails between December 2013 and April 2015. He will be required to pay the entire amount. JailCigs were sold for $12.95 plus $2 in shipping. Approximately 10,500 units were sold to Rutherford County inmates for a total of $156,975. None of that money was shared with the government, according to the prosecution.
Russell earned $52,234 JailCigs from December 2013 through April 2015, according to a Tennessee Comptroller report released Nov. 16. Russell pleaded guilty to the same three counts as Arnold on Jan. 20. Vanderveer pleaded guilty to attempted witness tampering on Jan. 30.
Vanderveer is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 6. and Russell on Sept. 8.
Arnold's attorneys requested his sentencing hearing sooner at a time he's been incarcerated and segregated from other inmates for his safety at the West Tennessee Detention Facility in Mason. His attorneys have said he'd face less severe conditions at a federal prison.
Unlike Russell and Vanderveer, Arnold lost his pretrial and pre-sentencing release after the court found probable cause he had committed domestic assault, witness tampering and intimidation of his wife following a Labor Day altercation at their home in Murfreesboro.
The ex-sheriff had sought to be released prior to pleading guilty, but former presiding case Judge Kevin Sharp rejected the request. Sharp's ruling was based on evidence presented from the prosecution that Arnold sought to intimidate his wife and lied to her during recorded phone conversations about a hit being ordered to kill him in jail.