KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — The Knox County Sheriff's Office's longtime fleet services manager pleaded guilty Tuesday to taking part in a plot to steal a luxury vehicle from a Knoxville restaurateur.
Ronnie Kidd appeared Tuesday morning in Knox County Criminal Court before Judge Scott Green. He admitted to a single count of official misconduct in an agreement with the Knox County District Attorney General's Office.
He pleaded guilty to what's called an information, a charge made in lieu of a grand jury review.
Kidd, 65, of Powell, faces a two-year term. He's seeking judicial diversion from Green, a privilege that would allow him to have the charge expunged from his record.
Defense attorney Tommy Hindman said after the plea that his client has "never been in any trouble in his life."
He said Kidd wants to put the incident behind him.
"We certainly feel that there are justifiable reasons to place him on probation," Hindman said.
Green set sentencing for Dec. 11.
As part of the plea, Kidd agreed to resign his job with fleet services, Assistant District Attorney General Bill Bright said.
Bright said prosecutors also oppose Kidd getting diversion.
Bentley theft plot
Bright told Green during Tuesday's hearing that Kidd was a player in a spring 2020 plot to steal Christopher Captain's Bentley Continental, after which it would be reported by Captain as an insurance loss.
Evidence showed Kidd's job was to arrange for inmate Joshua Caleb Haynes to take the vehicle from Captain, the owner of the Sam and Andy's Deli in Knoxville, Bright said.
Kidd knew Haynes, who was a skilled mechanic that Kidd used to work on fleet vehicles while he was in custody, the prosecutor said.
Kidd arranged for Haynes to be bonded out of jail. It was then Haynes' job to steal the car, Bright said.
On the day of the theft in April, Kidd texted Captain the message, "Tonight," the investigation showed.
The keys were left in the vehicle ignition at Captain's home to enable the theft, Bright told Green.
Captain reported the car as stolen. Haynes was found speeding April 20 with the stolen Bentley soon after in Grainger County. Once he was arrested, he began to talk.
The plot began to unravel, Bright said, and the TBI was called in to investigate.
TBI Special Agent Brandon Elkins investigated and provided his review to DA Charme Allen's office.
Captain's attorney, Gregory P. Isaacs, said Tuesday his client had been "open and transparent" with law enforcement and had cooperated with them from the beginning of the investigation.
He has not yet been charged.
Sheriff put Kidd on paid leave
Sheriff Tom Spangler put Kidd on paid leave as the investigation began.
Kidd had been fleet manager since 2006, according to his personnel file, and drew biweekly pay of $3,501.
Spangler said Tuesday in a press briefing that he acted after learning about "inappropriate conduct" by a civilian employee of the department. He told reporters he asked the district attorney general to ensure an independent review was conducted by the TBI.
The sheriff said he didn't want anyone to think authorities were trying to cover up what had happened.
"Rest assured that this type of behavior will not be tolerated as long as I am sheriff of Knox County," Spangler said.
He echoed Tuesday a statement he gave in May as word of the investigation began to spread.
"There are no words to describe my disappointment," the sheriff's statement from May reads. "I promised each of you that I would be honest, forthright and transparent when elected. As painful as situations involving allegations of employee misconduct are, it is important for the integrity of the Agency and for the honest, hardworking men and women of the Knox County Sheriff’s Office that I do everything within my power to appropriately handle situations as openly and expeditiously as possible.
"The overwhelming number of men and women in the Knox County Sheriff’s Office are hard-working public servants who take their oath and our mission seriously."
Fleet Services personnel take care of the Sheriff's Office's vehicles. The department has its own garage.
Inmates also are given the chance to work on fleet vehicles while in custody for training and work experience.
Kidd previously worked as a fleet manager at Reeder Chevrolet before moving over to KCSO.
Past evaluations in his work history file showed he got strong marks, including one that said he took care of equipment, "Just like it was his."