Federal charges were announced today against the sheriff of Fentress County. According to acting U.S. Attorney Jack Smith who announced the charges, 47-year-old Charles “Chucky” Cravens entered a plea of guilty an hour after he was charged today before U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger of the Middle Court District of Tennessee.
Authorities say Cravens faced three counts of honest services fraud and one count of deprivation of rights under color of law.
According to court documents, Cravens is accused of allegedly calling a female inmate to his office in July 2016 and having unprotected sex with her. Cravens is also accused of discussing having sex with the same inmate as well as another one month later in August 2016. The three allegedly formulated a plan to leave the jail together, and authorities say Cravens drove them to a vacant trailer where they engaged in unprotected sex.
Federal officials say Cravens maintained a sexual relationship with the three female inmates for several months until they were released from jail. The most recent release was in February 2017.
The investigation reportedly also revealed Cravens drove a third inmate out of Fentress County to visit a relative this past February and, on the way back to jail, raised the subject of sex. The two then had sex inside his vehicle. Cravens is accused of sleeping with this inmate on at least one other occasion.
Authorities say Cravens reportedly used his position as sheriff to provide additional benefits to these inmates in exchange for their sexual relationships, including being transported personally by the sheriff from the jail to visit relatives, being allowed to go outside to smoke cigarettes, and providing money to relatives of the inmates to deposit into their jail commissary accounts.
According to a press release, the inmates called Sheriff Cravens’ personal cell phone and left recorded messages through the jail’s phone system when requesting special privileges. The Information alleges that between August 24, 2016 and March 1, 2017, one inmate called Cravens 332 times, the second called him 51 times, and the third placed 349 calls to Cravens’ phone.
Authorities added that on November 13, 2016, Cravens is accused of allegedly kicking a male inmate two times and placing him in a headlock while another correctional officer handcuffed him. The sheriff is accused of hitting him twice in the back of the head after he was cuffed.
“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.”
“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.”
“I am grateful to our law enforcement partners for their swift response and assistance to the citizens of Fentress County,” said District Attorney General Jared Effler. “The District Attorney’s Office always stands ready to provide any assistance necessary to investigate and prosecute matters involving public corruption.”
This afternoon, the Fentress County Sheriff’s Department issued a joint statement from Chief Deputy and acting Sheriff Gary Ledbetter and County Executive J. Michael Cross.
“We are disappointed and shocked by Cravens past actions and his admissions. Our focus remains on the day to day operations at the sheriff’s office and the justice center. We echo 8th District Attorney General Jared Effler’s sentiments in that we are committed to serve and protect the citizens of Fentress County. The actions of Cravens did NOT reflect the brave men and women we have the privilege of working with on a daily basis.”
The statement from Ledbetter and Cross ended with the Fentress County government and sheriff’s office had no further comment at this time and they are looking forward to putting the matter behind the county as they move forward to restore the public’s confidence and integrity that the people deserve.
Cravens faces a maximum of 20 years in prison for each count of honest services fraud and up to one year in prison on the civil rights charge for a total maximum of 61 years in prison. Cravens will be sentenced July 20, 2017.