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RALEIGH—Whatever he does, Ronald Hewett makes history.
When the clock struck midnight on his 20th birthday, he was sworn in as a Holden Beach police officer.
In 1994, at the age of 31, Hewett was sworn in as the youngest sheriff in North Carolina.
Then in 2008, Hewett became the second Brunswick County sheriff to plead guilty or to be convicted of a federal charge.
On Monday, 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 Monday afternoon.
“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 on Monday, 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 also ordered to pay a $10,000 fine and two years supervised release after serving 16 months in prison.
“I take full responsibility,” Hewett said in U.S. District Court Monday afternoon.
“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 on Monday were county commissioner Phil Norris, Shallotte Alderman Alan Lewis, former Holden Beach Commissioner Pat Sandifer, Hewett’s wife Julie and his mother Pauline.
Hewett’s attorney Douglas Parsons suggested, and Britt recommended, that 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.
Hewett, who resigned his post after 14 years as sheriff April 15 amidst a federal investigation and while facing four state charges, pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice June 2.
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.”
The charge stems back to June 2007, when 25 people, mainly sheriff’s deputies, were subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury, Assistant U.S. Attorney Dennis Duffy said.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office began investigating allegations of Hewett’s misuse of public funds in December 2006, Duffy said.
But Hewett’s obstruction and interference with the federal investigation began just days after the first subpoenas were served, Duffy said.
Before Britt accepted Hewett’s guilty plea, he gave Duffy the floor to present what the U.S. Attorney’s Office could prove Hewett did, “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
After reading the U.S. Attorney’s Office case against Hewett, Britt asked Hewett if he agreed with the government’s case.
Evidence included in Duffy’s case mirrored evidence included in district attorney Rex Gore’s petition to remove Hewett from office in late March, days before a Brunswick County grand jury indicted Hewett on three counts of embezzlement by a public official and one count of obstruction of justice.
Hewett still faces the four charges pending in state court. Gore said Tuesday the state charges would not be dropped despite Hewett’s federal sentence.
Hewett was suspended March 27 on the grounds of extortion, intoxication, willful misconduct and neglect.
“Today has been a dark day for Brunswick County,” U.S. Attorney George Holding said in a press conference after Hewett’s sentencing.
“Former sheriff Hewett held a public trust as a law enforcement officer and as an elected official. He violated that trust by using his office for personal benefit,” Holding said.
When law enforcement officials and the federal grand jury began to investigate claims Hewett was using the sheriff’s office for his personal benefit and other allegations, “he unlawfully obstructed that investigation,” Holding said.
“Sworn law enforcement officers are the backbone of our justice system. For an officer to obstruct justice is unacceptable and will not be tolerated in any form, Holding said.
“Sheriff Hewett broke his oath. He failed the people and will now pay the price. He’s going to federal prison for 16 months.”