Criminal Justice News

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Tennessee Sheriff Pleads Guilty to Federal Corruption and Civil Rights Charges



The sheriff of Fentress County, Tennessee, pleaded guilty today to three counts of honest services fraud and one count of deprivation of rights under color of law.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Acting U.S. Attorney Jack Smith of the Middle District of Tennessee, Special Agent in Charge Michael Gavin of the FBI’s Memphis Division, Director Mark Gwyn of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations (TBI) and District Attorney General of Jared Effler the Eight Judicial District in Tennessee made the announcement.

Charles Cravens, 47, of Jamestown, Tennessee, pleaded guilty today before U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger of the Middle District of Tennessee.  Sentencing is scheduled for July 20, 2017.

“Sheriff Cravens selfishly tarnished the reputation and badge worn proudly by so many hard-working and upstanding members of the law enforcement community who risk their lives every day.  He shamefully turned his back on the citizens of Fentress County and used the powers of his office to serve his own personal and sexual desires and to victimize the inmates under his charge,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Blanco.  “Our prosecutors and law enforcement partners are committed to rooting out and exposing corruption and abuse of all kinds and at all levels of government.”

“Our citizens deserve public officials who serve their constituents, not their own personal interests,” said Acting U.S. Attorney 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.”
                                                                                                                                                           
“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,” said Director Gwyn.  “We are grateful to have the cooperation and support of our federal and state partners in investigating officials who abuse that public trust.”

“I am grateful to our law enforcement partners for their swift response and assistance to the citizens of Fentress County,” said District Attorney General Effler.  “The District Attorney’s Office always stands ready to provide any assistance necessary to investigate and prosecute matters involving public corruption.”

As Sheriff of Fentress County, Cravens served as the chief law enforcement officer within Fentress County.  Among his duties as Sheriff, Cravens was responsible for the operation of the Fentress County Jail in Jamestown, Tennessee, a correctional facility housing approximately 147 male and female inmates.

According to admissions in the plea agreement, Cravens used his position as Sheriff to solicit sex from and have sex with female inmates incarcerated at the Fentress County Jail on multiple occasions between July 2016 and April 2017 in exchange for benefits that other inmates did not receive. 

Cravens 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.  Cravens 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.  Cravens admitted that 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.

According to plea documents, 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.  Cravens also admitted to providing money on three occasions to the relatives of two inmates for depositing into the inmates’ commissary accounts.  Cravens further admitted to allowing two inmates to exit the jail building to smoke cigarettes that he either provided personally or directed other jail staff to provide.  Cravens further admitted he provided his personal cellular telephone number to the inmates with whom he engaged in sexual conduct so they could call him using the Fentress County Jail telephone system to leave recorded messages with personal requests.  According the plea, between Aug. 24, 2016, and March 1, 2017, three inmates placed over 700 calls total to Cravens’ phone.

Also according to the plea, Cravens admitted to using unreasonable force as a law enforcement officer in November 2016, kicking a handcuffed male inmate in the backside and also punching him twice in the back of the head.

The FBI and TBI are investigating the case.  This case is being prosecuted by Acting Chief AnnaLou Tirol and Trial Attorneys Andrew Laing and Lauren Bell of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Katy Risinger of the Middle District of Tennessee.

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