Sheriff's family, deputy tied to company selling e-cigs to jail - WSMV Channel 4

Sheriff's family, deputy tied to company selling e-cigs to jail

Posted: Updated: Apr 21, 2015 06:08 PM
Rutherford County Sheriff Robert Arnold Rutherford County Sheriff Robert Arnold
MURFREESBORO, TN (WSMV) -

Channel 4 has learned that the Rutherford County sheriff's family members own a company that sells e-cigarettes to the county jail.

The sheriff's second-in-command is also a part-owner.

Smoking e-cigarettes can help calm the nerves of inmates addicted to nicotine, but they are not allowed in most jails.

Inmates in the Rutherford County Jail are allowed to mail order e-cigarettes from a company called JailCigs.

JailCigs is based in Marietta, GA. Two of the co-owners are John and Judy Vanderveer. They are relatives of Sheriff Robert Arnold.

"Aunt and uncle," Arnold said.

Arnold said he sees nothing wrong with a company owned by his family members selling e-cigarettes to his inmates.

But that's not the only connection. The sheriff's wife also works for JailCigs.

"My wife works part-time answering the phones for them," Arnold said.

Arnold disclosed his connection on a form that elected officials are required to file with the state every year. His form indicates he receives income from the company.

But Arnold told Channel 4 on Tuesday that was an error on his part. He said his wife works for JailCigs, not him.

The company was formed in Georgia in 2013. One of the founding members, Joe Russell, works directly under the sheriff.

"Joe Russell? I mean, I know who he is, but I don't know," Arnold said.

Russell is Arnold's chief deputy of administration and the finance man for the sheriff's department. He's also listed on state incorporation records as part-owner of JailCigs.

When Channel 4 showed Arnold the paperwork, he said he didn't know about Russell's involvement.

"No, I'm kind of shocked about that," he said. "I guess I'm taken back on that."

Arnold said he'll talk to his deputy and expects to stop allowing e-cigarettes to be sold in his jail.

"I guess we're going to have to," Arnold said. "If Joe's tied to it, it can't be in here."

Russell was on vacation this week and could not be reached for comment.

Arnold said the sheriff's department gets a cut of the e-cigarette sales, but the money goes into the general fund for the county.

The Rutherford County Finance Office said it doesn't have any record of payments to JailCigs. However, the finance director said the county doesn't have that kind of paper trail if the check was sent to the sheriff's department first, then bundled with other deposits.

Russell would reportedly have the paper trail of money that JailCigs sent to the sheriff's department.

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