Former Fentress County Sheriff Chucky Cravens faces decades in prison after pleading guilty to federal corruption and civil rights charges.
Investigators said he bribed three inmates to have sex with him and punched another inmate who was handcuffed.
Details about the federal investigation were revealed Thursday morning in documents filed by the acting United States attorney in U.S. District Court in Nashville.
Sheriff Cravens resigned April 14, just three days after federal and state investigators arrived at the Fentress County Sheriff's Office and seized two county trucks and other potential evidence.
According to allegations in the charging document, Cravens used his position as Sheriff to solicit sex from, and have sex with, three female inmates at the Fentress County Jail in return for giving them benefits at the jail.
These extra benefits included the sheriff driving the inmates to visit relatives, the inmates being allowed outside the jail to smoke cigarettes, and the sheriff giving money to relatives of the inmates to deposit into their jail commissary accounts, the documents noted.
Cravens was charged Thursday with three counts of honest services fraud and one count of rights under color of law, and later pleaded guilty. He will be sentenced on July 20 and could face up to 61 years in prison.
"Our citizens deserve public officials who serve their constituents, and who don't serve their own personal interests," Jack Smith Acting U.S. Attorney in Nashville. "I promise you elected officials who abuse their authority and take advantage of the trust placed in them in office will be brought to justice," said Jack Smith, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee."
Chief Deputy Gary Ledbetter has taken charge of the department since federal agents descended on the Sheriff's Office to gather evidence against Cravens
Ledbetter, in a joint statement with Fentress County Executive Michael Cross and other county officials, said: "We are disappointed and shocked by Cravens' past actions and his admissions. Our focus remains on the day-to-day operations at the sheriff's office and the Justice Center."
"We echo 8th District Attorney General Jared Effler's sentiments in that 'We are committed to serve and protect the citizens of Fentress County. The actions of Cravens do not reflect the brave men and women we have the privilege of working with on a daily basis."
The information claimed the alleged scheme began in July 2016 when Cravens summoned a female inmate, identified as 'Inmate 1,' into his office at the jail and they had unprotected sex.
Then in August 2016, Cravens is accused of discussing having sex with Inmate 1, and another inmate identified as 'Inmate 2.' They made a plan to leave the jail together and Cravens drove them to a vacant trailer where they all had unprotected sex, according to the charging document.
According to the information investigators received, Cravens continued to have sex with Inmate 1 and Inmate 2 periodically until they were released from the jail in February 2017.
In February 2017, Cravens then drove 'Inmate 3' to visit a relative outside Fentress County.
"While returning to the jail, CRAVENS proposed having sex, and inmate 3 agreed. After reentering Fentress County, CRAVENS and Inmate 3 had sex in CRAVENS' vehicle," the charging document said.
To request their special privileges, the three inmates would use the jail's telephone system to call Sheriff Cravens and leave messages on his personal cell phone.
According to investigators, between August 2016 and March 2017, Inmate 1 called Cravens 332 times, Inmate 2 called 51 times, and Inmate 3 called 349 times.
The U.S. attorney also charged that on or about Nov. 13, 2016, Cravens punched a handcuffed inmate twice in the back of the head.
“The citizens of Fentress County, and all of Tennessee, deserve elected officials who work in the public’s best interest, especially from those officials who are sworn to uphold the law,” says TBI Director Mark Gwyn. “We are grateful to have the cooperation and support of our federal and state partners in investigating officials who abuse that public trust.”
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