Former sheriff pleads guilty to federal charge

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By Caroline Curran, Reporter

After proclaiming his innocence for just shy of one year, former sheriff Ronald Hewett proclaimed his guilt in federal court Monday morning.

As part of a plea agreement signed in U.S. District Court, Hewett pleaded guilty to one count of obstruction of justice before U.S. District Judge W. Earl Britt.

Hewett was charged with obstruction of justice on May 8.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office charged Hewett “did corruptly endeavor to influence, obstruct, and impede the due administration of justice, specifically, by taking actions intended to influence, obstruct and impede the testimony of grand jury witnesses.”

As a condition of his release, Hewett was required to surrender any firearms, surrender his passport, not to drink any alcohol and to “undergo medical or psychiatric treatment and/or remain in as institution as follows,” as directed by a U.S. probation officer.

Hewett will be sentenced Sept. 8. He faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The charge stems back to June 2007, when 25 people were subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury, assistant U.S. Attorney Dennis Duffy said.

Duffy, who called the sheriff’s office a “hostile place to work,” during Hewett’s tenure, said the federal investigation into Hewett’s actions began in December 2006.

After Hewett pleaded guilty to the obstruction of justice charge, Duffy read the allegations the U.S. Attorney’s Office believed it could prove had the matter gone to trial rather than Hewett pleading guilty.

Hewett told Britt he agreed with all of the allegations presented by Duffy.

Duffy said the U.S. Attorney’s Office could prove Hewett misused public funds by forcing deputies to do personal work on county time. Hewett is facing three similar charges in state court of embezzlement by a public official.

Hewett obstructed justice by refusing to charge a family member who could “hurt him politically,” Duffy said. Hewett is also facing this charge in state court.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office could also prove Hewett interfered with the federal grand jury investigation by tampering with grand jury investigation and by “pumping” deputies to see who was cooperating with the investigation, Duffy said.

Hewett brought in a chaplain to staff meetings who told sheriff’s office staff “not to cooperate with the evil on the witness stand,” Duffy said.

Hewett and his attorney W. Douglas Parsons declined to comment after the court proceeding.

According to a press release from the U.S. Attorney's Office, Hewett and his wife Julie had their son Justin deliver a note to a grand jury witness, "which contained the words the witness would need to read in grand jury in order to invoke his Fifth Amendment privilege."

“The investigation and prosecution of public corruption is one of our office’s highest priorities. Ronald Hewett unlawfully obstructed a grand jury investigation into corruption of his office, and he’s being held accountable for it in federal court,” U.S. Attorney George Holding said in the press release.

“He’s being held accountable for those acts of corruption by the charges the state authorities have brought.”

Check back for more updates, and pick up this week’s issue of the Beacon for the full story.

See the waiver of indictment by clicking here.

See Hewett's full plea agreement by clicking here.