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Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
For nearly 10 months we have wondered about the nature of the federal investigation surrounding Brunswick County Sheriff Ronald Hewett.
Little information has been made public about its nature but rumors and speculation have been rampant.
Since first being subpoenaed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office on June 7, 2007, Hewett has maintained he did not know the scope or the nature of the investigation—and his innocence.
But he said he would fully comply with the investigation. Deputies, family members and seemingly unrelated individuals traveled to Raleigh during the past nine months to testify before the federal grand jury, all the while Hewett remained steadfast at the helm of his office.
Or so it seemed.
Thursday evening, district attorney Rex Gore announced Hewett was suspended pending an official hearing to remove him from office at noon Monday.
Though Gore said the district attorney’s office investigation was separate from the U.S. Attorney’s Office investigation, many of the sworn affidavits signed by deputies are among either the U.S. Attorney’s Office list of “relevant parties,” or they testified before the federal grand jury.
Allegations against Hewett include being drunk at crime scenes, including a homicide and an officer-related shooting; sexual harassment and racial harassment against employees; and extortion.
The affidavits claim Hewett forced sheriff’s office employees to do personal work for him while on county time. This work includes fundraising, campaigning, organizing private events and doing extensive labor at his Holden Beach Road home.
At the time of Hewett’ suspension, county coroner Greg White assumed all duties as acting sheriff.
If Hewett is officially removed from office, the Democratic party has 30 days to nominate Hewett’s successor. County commissioners would then appoint the nominee as sheriff.
White kicked off his duties as sheriff by having a meeting at 8 a.m. Friday with the sheriff’s office staff.
“Well it was just a meeting of encouragement,” White said of his first day as sheriff.
“To ensure them they are the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office—they knew what their job was before I came in,” he said.
While White says it’s still early in the transition, “it was a great mood,” in the meeting.
“Their obligations are to the citizens of Brunswick County. That’s who they serve,” he said.
White said he would split his time between the sheriff’s office and his business, Peacock, Newnam and White funeral home in Southport.
White, a Democrat, has been county coroner since December 1985.
Monday’s hearing will be presided over by Superior Court Judge Ola Lewis.
For continuing coverage and for more information, check www.brunswickbeacon.com, and for complete coverage, pick up next week’s issue of the Beacon.