NASHVILLE (WATE) – Fentress County Sheriff Charles “Chucky” Cravens pleaded guilty to three counts of honest services fraud and one count of deprivation of rights under color law.
Cravens, 47, pleaded guilty on Thursday before United States District Judge Aleta Trauger. Sentencing is scheduled for July 20, 2017.
In his plea agreement, Cravens admitted to using his position as sheriff to have sex with female inmates incarcerated at the Fentress County Jail on multiple occasions between July 2016 and April 2017. Cravens admitted that he used his position as sheriff to provide additional benefits to these inmates in exchange for sex.
Among those benefits, Cravens admitted to personally transporting inmates outside the jail to visit relatives. He also admitted to providing money on three occasions to the relatives of two inmates for depositing into the inmates’ commissary accounts and allowing two inmates to exit the jail building to smoke cigarettes that he either provided personally or directed other jail staff to provide.
Cravens also admitted to providing his personal cell phone number to inmates with whom he engaged in sexual conduct so they could call him using the Fentress County Jail telephone systems to leave recorded messages with a personal request. According to the plea agreement, between Aug. 24, 2016, and March 1, 2017, three inmates placed over 700 calls total to Cravens’ phone.
The former sheriff admitted that in July 2016 he summoned an inmate into his office where they engaged in sexual activity. In August 2016, Cravens admitted that he discussed having sex together with two inmates, and that he drove them to a vacant trailer off jail property where the three engaged in sexual activity.
In the plea agreement, he further admitted that he maintained a sexual relationship with these inmates for several months until they were released from jail, the last being in February 2017. Cravens also admitted that in February 2017, he drove a third inmate outside of the jail to visit a relative and initiated sex with the inmate in his vehicle on the route back.
He admitted that he had sex with this inmate on at least one other occasion. Cravens also admitted that several of the sexual acts occurred in an official Fentress County Sheriff’s Department vehicle that Cravens was authorized to drive.
“Our citizens deserve public officials who serve their constituents, not their own personal interests,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Jack Smith. “I promise you that elected officials in our district who abuse their authority and take advantage of the trust placed in them by the folks who put them in office will be brought to justice. The U.S. Attorney’s Office and our law enforcement partners serve the people of the entire district, including, not just Nashville, but also rural areas like Fentress County. We will enforce our nation’s laws equally to protect all our citizens of against abuses of power wherever they occur.”
“I am grateful to our law enforcement partners for their swift response and assistance to the citizens of Fentress County,” said District Attorney General Jared Effler. “The District Attorney’s Office always stands ready to provide any assistance necessary to investigate and prosecute matters involving public corruption.”
On April 14, Cravens informed Fentress County commissioners he would step down from his position amid the state and federal investigation. Chief Deputy Gary Ledbetter was named the temporary sheriff.
The Fentress County Sheriff’s Office and Deputy Chief Ledbetter released a joint statement saying:
We are disappointed and shocked by Cravens past actions and his admissions. Our focus remains on the day to day operation 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.”
Fentress County Government and Fentress County Sheriff’s Office have no further comment at this time, and with today’s events we look forward to putting this matter behind us as we move forward to restore confidence with teh professionalisma nd integrity that the people deserve.
The case was investigated by the FBI, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the District Attorney’s Office for the Eighth Judicial District. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Katy Risinger and DOJ Trial Attorneys Lauren Bell and Andrew Laing of the Department’s Public Integrity Section.