Fentress County Sheriff accused of sex with inmates

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FENTRESS COUNTY, Tenn. (WVLT) -- Charges filed against Fentress County Sheriff Charles Cravens allege sex with inmates and civil rights violations, according to the Acting United States District Attorney for the Middle District of Tennesssee.

47-year-old Cravens pleaded guilty Thursday to three counts of honest services fraud and one count of deprivation of rights under color of law.
Cravens pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger of the Middle District of Tennessee. Sentencing was set for July 20, 2017.

James Cooper, Fentress County Commissioner of the fifth district, confirmed that the Fentress County Sheriff Chucky Cravens resigned from his post, effective April 28.

Information from the DA's office accuses Cravens of having sex with three inmates.

Officials said Cravens allegedly summoned an inmate to his office and had unprotected sex with her in July 2016. The same information makes allegations that Cravens formulated a plan to leave the jail with two inmates and had unprotected sex with them in a vacant trailer. Investigators found that he supposedly maintained sexual relationships with the same two inmates until they were released from jail. The last inmate was released in February 2017.

Also in February 2017, information claims that the Fentress County Sheriff drove another inmate outside of the county to visit a relative and had unprotected sex with the inmate. Officials said Cravens had sex with the inmate on at least one other occasion.

A release from the Department of Justice said the sheriff admitted to using his position to provide benefits in exchange for sexual relationships with inmates. The extra benefits included the inmates being transported personally by the sheriff from the jail to visit relatives; the inmates being allowed to go outside of the jail to smoke cigarettes; and the sheriff providing money to relatives of the inmates for deposit into their jail commissary accounts.

"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," said Acting Assistant Attorney General Blanco. "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. 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.

Investigators said the inmates called the sheriff's cell phone and left recorded messages through the jail's telephone system to request special privileges. Through the use of the phone system, payment is required when inmates make outgoing calls, and it allows for a 20-second message to be left without incurring charges. Information alleges that between August 24, 2016, and March 1, 2017, one inmate called Cravens 332 times; another inmate called Cravens 51 times; and a third inmate placed 349 calls to Cravens' phone.

More information released by the Department of Justice claims that Cravens and a fourth inmate were in an open area within the jail when Cravens kicked the inmate twice in the backside and placed him in a headlock while another correctional officer handcuffed him, then Cravens hit him 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."

"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."

If convicted, Cravens faces a maximum of 20 years in prison for each count of honest services fraud and up to one year in prison the civil rights charge.

The case was investigated by the FBI, the TBI, and the District Attorney's Office for the 8th 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.

In a letter to the citizens of Fentress County, Chief Deputy Gary Ledbetter referenced the FBI investigation into Sheriff Cravens. In the letter, Ledbetter confirmed the primary focus of the federal investigation was related solely to the actions of Sheriff Cravens and was not related to the Sheriff's Office as whole.

"Make no mistake; I want you, the public, to know that I do not condone wrong doing or inappropriate behavior from any of our staff," Ledbetter's letter stated. "That's not what we are about. We took an oath to protect and serve our community and I believe that we are fortunate to have an honest, hardworking and dedicated crew at the Sheriff's Office that works hard every single day to maintain your trust."

The Fentress County Commission met on the evening of Monday, May 1, where they announced they will be accepting resumes for the replacement of Cravens. They said the open period for applications will last one month, and they hope to have a new sheriff in place by June 26.