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Former sheriff pleads guilty to state embezzlement chargesVideo included

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By Caroline Curran, Reporter

BOLIVIA—For a man of so many words, Ronald Hewett had few Monday morning, when he pleaded guilty to three state charges of embezzlement by a public official.

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Hewett entered a no-contest plea to a fourth state charge—obstruction of justice.

As part of a plea agreement, Hewett’s charges were consolidated. He was sentenced to 15 to 18 months, which were suspended in lieu of 36 months of supervised probation.

Hewett will be under supervised probation until he reports to federal prison for a 16-month prison term to which he was sentenced last week in U.S. District Court.

When Hewett begins serving his federal sentence, he will also serve four months concurrently on state charges. Upon completing the 16 months for the combined federal and state sentences, Hewett’s state sentence will be completed with unsupervised parole.

Hewett’s restitution on his state charges had been previously paid, district attorney Rex Gore told Superior Court Judge Gary Locklear.

“I don’t take any pleasure in sitting as a judge in matters like this. I don’t take any pleasure, especially when it’s a member of the same judicial justice system that I participate in,” Locklear said.

“You’re held to a higher standard,” he added.

Locklear gave Hewett and opportunity to be heard during his sentencing before a packed courtroom.

“This is your case. It’s not your attorneys’ case. You have an opportunity to speak in these proceedings, and I told you that I would give you that opportunity,” Locklear said.

Hewett declined.

“No, sir,” he responded, “My attorneys have said it all.”

Hewett also declined to comment when asked by a Beacon reporter, saying only, “I’ve said enough. But thank-you for asking.”

Had he been convicted of the four state charges, Hewett faced up to 17 years in prison.

“You will survive it. Brunswick County will survive it,” Locklear said.

Background

On March 27, Gore filed a petition to remove Hewett from office on the grounds of extortion, maladministration, neglect and intoxication.

A Brunswick County grand jury indicted Hewett on March 31 on three counts of embezzlement by a public official and one count of obstruction of justice.

After serving 14 years as sheriff, Hewett resigned April 15. In June, Hewett pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in U.S. District Court, and last week, he was sentenced to 16 months in federal prison.

On Monday, Oct. 6, Hewett was the third North Carolina sheriff sentenced to federal prison this year.

U.S. District Judge W. Earl Britt, who sentenced former Brunswick County Sheriff Herman Strong to prison 25 years ago, sentenced Hewett to 16 months in federal prison.

“This is a tragic day in Brunswick County,” Britt said before handing down Hewett’s sentence.

“Another tragic day in North Carolina,” Britt continued. “We have seen far too many public officials convicted either by their own plea or by trial of abusing the public trust.”

Also last week, former Buncombe County Sheriff Bobby Medford was sentenced to 15 years in prison in North Carolina’s Western District federal court. In June, former Robeson County Sheriff Glenn Maynor was sentenced to six years in prison.

In addition to the 16-month active prison term, Hewett was ordered to pay a $10,000 fine and two years supervised release after serving the 16 months in prison.

“I take full responsibility,” Hewett said in U.S. District Court on Oct. 6.

“I can’t tell you how sorry I am—the remorse I feel. I want to thank the folks from Brunswick County standing behind me,” Hewett said.

Among the group of supporters in Raleigh for Hewett’s sentencing were county commissioner Phil Norris, Shallotte Alderman Alan Lewis, former Holden Beach Commissioner Pat Sandifer, Hewett’s wife Julie and his mother Pauline.

Even more supporters showed up at Hewett’s hearing Monday in Brunswick County.

Hewett’s attorney Douglas Parsons suggested, and Britt recommended, Hewett serve time at Butner Federal Correction Complex. Parsons also asked Britt to allow Hewett to continue with his substance abuse treatment while in prison by participating in an intense substance abuse program, “so that he may continue on the course he’s on.”

The federal bureau of prisons will determine where Hewett will serve time.

Hewett will be able to self-report to prison at a date and time later determined by the prison bureau.

The state charges

One count of embezzlement accuses Hewett of misusing $819 of Brunswick County taxpayer funds to pay salaries of Brunswick County sheriff’s deputies to paint campaign signs while they were on duty.

The second embezzlement count alleges he misused $330.61 to pay deputy Jim Barr to guard Hewett’s personal driveway while it was being paved by Palmetto Paving Company.

The third count indicates that between August and October 2005, Hewett misused $292.76 to pay the salaries of two Brunswick County Sheriff’s deputies to cut down 52 trees on Hewett’s property.

The obstruction of justice charge alleges Hewett instructed detective Laurie Smith to not charge Margaret Hewett for intimidating a state witness saying Margaret Hewett was distant kin to the sheriff and doing so would hurt him.