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Report on Rutherford County Sheriff's office

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The Tennessee Comptroller's Office released a scathing reviewWednesday of Rutherford County Sheriff's Office operations where activities already have led to a 14-count federal indictment.

Many of the issues involve Rutherford County Sheriff Robert Arnold and Chief Deputy of Administration Joe Russell, who are currently facing federal charges, according to an investigative report released Wednesday.

Comptroller's officials say investigators determined that Arnold and Russell violated multiple state and local laws, policies and procedures by concealing their relationship with JailCigs.

JailCigs is a Marietta, Georgia-based company that sells electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, to inmates, including inmates within the Rutherford County Jail.

Investigators said Arnold failed to disclose his conflict of interest with JailCigs even though he and his wife received a combined $66,790 from the company from December 2013 through April 2015.

Russell received $52,234.41 from JailCigs over the same period, officials said.

Arnold and Russell also violated county purchasing policies by circumventing the process and failing to solicit bids, according to state officials.

When comptroller investigators interviewed Arnold regarding his conflict of interest, he told them, "The sheriff is exempt from all policies and procedures."

Arnold could not provide documentation to support his statement, investigators said.

According to accounts in the Tennessean, federal charges — including conspiracy, fraud, bribery and misusing their authority — were leveled in May against the two men in a federal indictment. Besides Arnold and Russell, Arnold's uncle, John Venderveer, also was charged criminally in the scheme.

The indictment says the men started the company in Georgia, brought it to Rutherford County without revealing their role in it and pocketed the profits from e-cigarette sales.

Comptroller's investigators also revealed that a Rutherford County deputy made false statements on federal and state forms when he indicated he was a United States citizen. That deputy was not named by state officials.

The deputy also claimed he was a U.S. citizen when he applied for Tennessee Peace Officer Standards and Training certification in 2010.

State law requires officers to be citizens of the United States, or permanent legal residents who have been honorably discharged from the U.S. military. But the deputy became a U.S. citizen on February 24, 2016, after investigators started asking questions about the false statements.

The Comptroller's investigation was completed in conjunction with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Findings and recommendations presented in the investigative report have been reviewed with the district attorney general for the 16th Judicial District, and the Office of the United States Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee, comptroller's office officials said.

"State law is clear about the need for public officials to disclose and avoid conflicts of interest," Comptroller Justin P. Wilson said. "It's vitally important that elected officials and government leaders commit to honesty, integrity and ethical behavior."

Anyone who suspects fraud, waste or abuse of public money in Tennessee should call the Comptroller's toll-free hotline at 800-232-5454.

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