Federal officials announced Saturday afternoon they had arrested Hamilton County Sheriff Billy Long for bribery, money laundering and providing a gun to a felon.
Russ Deaderick, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee, said Sheriff Long accepted a number of cash bribes over a lengthy period.
The sheriff was taken into custody Saturday morning by the FBI. He was brought in to the courtroom in handcuffs before Federal Magistrate Bill Carter at 3 p.m.
Magistrate Carter ordered him detained until a detention hearing on Monday at 2 p.m. after prosecutor Gary Humble called him "a danger to the community." He said the sheriff could face more charges. He apparently will be held at an outlying jail.
Sheriff Long, who looked dazed and had his head bowed during his brief court appearance, was told he could face up to 20 years in prison for bribery and money laundering and up to 10 years in prison on the gun charge. He also could face a fine up to $250,000 on the Hobbs Act charges.
Sheriff Long said he will secure an attorney by the Monday afternoon hearing.
Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge Richard Lambert said the sheriff took 12 payments totaling $17,400 between April 3 and Dec. 14 of last year that he was told were for protection of video poker operations for Indian store owners.
He said the sheriff also received five cash payments totaling $6,550 from Dec. 3 to Jan. 24 of this year that was supposed to be to protect $625,000 in illegal drugs.
The FBI recorded and videoed numerous encounters the sheriff had with a confidential informant and was filmed taking numerous payoffs, officials said.
Mr. Deaderick said the investigation is ongoing and there may be additional charges filed.
County Commissioner Curtis Adams said, "I couldn't be more disappointed and heart-broken. Dot and I sort of adopted him. I've never known anybody that I learned to like so much in such a short time. It's hard to believe he would do something like this."
Commissioner Adams said, "He has done some good things, and the County Commission has been solidly behind him. We've given him everything he asked for, including the funding for the SROs. And he's been good to attend our commission meetings."
If Sheriff Long steps down, it will be up to the County Commission to name a temporary successor.
The election for a new sheriff would be in August. Since the primary has already passed, the political parties would need to caucus to choose nominees.
Allen Branum, former police chief in Soddy-Daisy who is the chief deputy to Sheriff Long, said the office will continue on with "aggressive law enforcement."
He said he believes no others in the sheriff's office are involved.
Chief Deputy Branum, who broke down at one point while he was being interviewed, called it "the worst day I can remember in my law enforcement career."
Chief Branum said, "I'm as surprised as anybody. If Sheriff Long is guilty of these charges, I am very disappointed."
He added, "This absolutely devastates a lot of people and I'm one of them."
He was meeting with personnel in the sheriff's office on Saturday afternoon.
County Mayor Claude Ramsey said he was "saddened and disappointed" when he was notified by FBI officials of the arrest early Saturday.
He called it "a sad day for Hamilton County. It's a sad day to be a public official in Hamilton County."
Mr. Deaderick said, "Law enforcement corruption cannot be tolerated and must be dealt with quickly and professionally. Local, state and federal agencies must work together and rely on each other to protect our citizens and to insure a safe environment. The Hamilton County Sheriff's Department, its deputies and staff, have worked effectively to support these ideals in the past and I am sure will do so in the future."
Agt. Lambert said, "More than any other crime, it is public corruptions that tears most at the fabric of democracy. When the desire to make money overshadows the duty to serve, not only is the fidelity of government threatened, but our very way of life is jeopardized. It is for those reasons that public corruption is the FBI's top criminal investigative priority."
Sheriff Long, a Democrat, had a 31-year career in the sheriff's office before winning an upset victory over veteran Sheriff John Cupp in 2006.
In an affidavit, FBI Agt. James Melia said on March 20, 2007, he was with a cooperating witness when the CW received a call from Sheriff Long.
He said the call "led to a series of events beginning with a trip by the CW and Sheriff Long to shake down the owner of a store, an ethnic east Indian, and coerce him to make good on what the sheriff claimed was a promised campaign contribution from this individual and other ethnic Indian store owners. Thereafter, the FBI was able to introduce two undercover agents posing as representatives of the store owners interested in obtaining the sheriff's protection."
It says after the 12 payments from the store owners, "the FBI introduced the sheriff to what he believed was a drug trafficking and money laundering operation" and there were five cash payments involved in that.
The affidavit says the Indian store owners had pledged $50,000 to support the Long campaign in 2006 "but had fallen far short of their pledge, in fact contributing only $12,000."
The CW said he and Sheriff Long planned to visit a specific Indian store owner "who supported Long in his campaign for sheriff. Upon visiting the store owner, they planned to threaten him with official action by members of the Hamilton County Sheriff's Department whom Long controlled if the store owners did not resolve their debt with Long."
In a recorded phone call, Sheriff Long "confirmed that the Indian store owners owed him approximately $38,000, that he was aware the store owner was 'selling s---' that's wrong,' and he would 'go down there and straighten his a-- out.'"
On April 3, the CW and the sheriff rode together in Sheriff Long's official vehicle to the store at 4510 Rossville Blvd. The sheriff, CW and store owner met in a back room where the owner was told "he and the other Indian store owners were responsible for paying the remainder of the $50,000 debt owed to Sheriff Long."
The affidavit says Sheriff Long "threatened the store owner by saying, 'We're going to have to shut it down' and 'if we go after one store we'll go after all of them.' Finally Long told the store owner that 'From here on out there will be action taken to make you understand.'"
At the close of the meeting, the CW asked the store owner to give Sheriff Long $200 to appease him. The meeting then moved to the sheriff's car. The owner offered $100, but the sheriff instructed him to give it to the CW. The CW then "asked the store owner to give the sheriff another $100 to calm him down, which he did."
After the owner left, the sheriff told the CW to keep all the money, saying he knew he was having financial hardships.
The affidavit says Sheriff Long continued to pressure the CW to pressure the store owner "to cause him and other store owners to pay the campaign debt."
The CW and Sheriff Long met April 16 at a business operated by the CW. The CW said he had money for the sheriff from the store owner. Sheriff Long asked that they move away from a window so he could not be seen. The CW gave Sheriff Long $1,000 during this meeting.
The affidavit says Sheriff Long told the CW "to keep the pressure on the store owner to provide more money to Sheriff Long and to tell him, 'I don't know how much longer I can hold the sheriff back.'"
It says the sheriff knew the store owner was involved in illegal activity, saying, "We know we can get him for certain things. We know all that meth s--- and all that stuff. We know all that."
The affidavit says the sheriff told the CW "to make sure the store owner knew the sheriff could close his store down for 30 days including Memorial Day, costing the store owner to lose a large amount of money."
Sheriff Long also directed the CW to contact "a person Long believed to the the leader of all Indian stores in the area and to arrange a meeting. Since Long had never met this supposed 'leader' and had little information about him, the FBI developed an undercover sting operation wherein undercover FBI agents would pose as nephews of the 'leader'."
On April 26, undercover FBI agents met with Sheriff Long at the CW at the India Mahal restaurant at 5970 Brainerd Road. At the meeting, Sheriff Long "granted permission for Indian stores to operate illegal gambling machines, as long as the machines were kept in back rooms. He also granted permission for the stores to engage in other lucrative money making activity, including selling ingredients used for the manufacture of methamphetamine. Long stressed to the undercover agents that it was important to conceal the illegal activities, and that when possible, Long would attempt to warn the store operators when he became aware that other law enforcement agencies were focusing on these illegal activities. Long further informed the undercover agents that he was aware of many of the businesses operated by Indians in Chattanooga and that he expected to be paid a part of the earnings generated by all of the businesses."
The agents offered to give the sheriff cash, but he said all money should be paid to the CW.
The affidavit says following the meeting Sheriff Long directed the CW to tell the Indians "they would have to pay $100,000 per quarter for his protection."
It says on May 3 Long said by phone to again to tell the nephews he wanted $100,000 per quarter, and he said he was concerned that the "nephews" were actually FBI undercover agents.
FBI Agts. James Melia and Scott Barker met with Sheriff Long on June 24 under the guise of updating his FBI security clearance.
They said they asked him numerous questions "to which he gave false and misleading answers."
On July 2, the sheriff and the CW met at the CW's business. Long said he wanted to continue with the plan to take money from the Indian store operators. He said all money should go to the CW, and then the CW could make it appear he was loaning money to him (Long).
Sheriff Long said, "I can't take no money from them personally you know, because I'm afraid they're going to be feds. They'll have me and you both in jail."
On Aug. 31, the CW said he had been getting money from the Indian store operators. He handed $3,500 to Sheriff Long, who returned $500 and kept the rest.
The 12 payments were $1,000, $3,500, $2,000, $2,000, $1,900, and seven for $1,000 each.
On Nov. 16, "at the behest of the FBI, the CW informed Long that the CW had been approached by the head of a Mexican drug trafficking operation about using a business operated by the CW as a means of shipping money generated by the sale of illegal narcotics to Mexico."
The sheriff was told the money would be hidden in cremation urns and shipped to Mexico. Sheriff Long agreed to go along with the scheme and asked to split the money with the CW. During this meeting, the CW gave the sheriff $1,000 that he was told came from the "nephews".
Sheriff Long drove from the meeting in a red Chevrolet Trailblazer registered to the sheriff.
On Nov. 23, the CW suggested he might be "hauling a--" with some drug money and requested he be made an "auxiliary" or "reserve" deputy sheriff. Sheriff Long offered to supply him with a badge. Sheriff Long drove from this meeting in a red SUV - his personal vehicle.
On Nov. 26, there was again discussion about the need for a badge in case the CW was stopped on Sand Mountain. Sheriff Long said, "I'll get you a badge."
On Nov. 29, Sheriff Long presented the CW "with a brand new Hamilton County Sheriff's Department patrolman's badge." At the same time, the CW showed the sheriff supplies to be used to send the illegal drug proceeds to Mexico. Sheriff Long warned the CW to "watch your back."
The CW informed Sheriff Long on Dec. 3 he had sent $25,000 in drug proceeds to Mexico. He gave the sheriff $550 - approximately half of the fee he claimed he charged the drug organization.
On Dec. 7, Sheriff Long and the CW met at the business operated by the CW. It was recorded on a video system installed by the FBI. The CW displayed a box which he told the sheriff contained $50,000 provided to him by the drug organization. Sheriff Long helped the CW open the box and observed several packages wrapped in Mexican newspapers. The CW opened several of the packages in the sheriff's presence and displayed a large amount of cash. The FBI had provided the $50,000 in cash. The CW told the sheriff he could expect to be paid the next week.
Sheriff Long was paid $1,000 by the CW at a meeting at the CW's business on Dec. 14. At this meeting, the sheriff was told the Indians were complaining they had not been tipped off about a raid. Sheriff Long said he did not believe the raid involved their businesses and "if he needs to be tipped, we'll tip him."
Also, on Dec. 14, the CW opened a box and displayed $100,000 in cash that the FBI had supplied. The CW told Sheriff Long, "This is easily going to be a half million dollars every week." Sheriff Long responded, "Well, come on with it, you know what I mean."
The CW said he felt uncomfortable keeping the money in the business as he did not have any protection. Sheriff Long promised to obtain something "unmarked" to the CW. Sheriff Long went from this meeting in his official vehicle, a gray Ford Explorer, to his home at 2504 Cedarton Court.
On Dec. 20, the sheriff and the CW again met at the CW's business, and the sheriff took a $2,000 payment. Sheriff Long presented the CW with a loaded .32-caliber Industria National De Armes revolver. The CW made several references to the fact he had a felony conviction and was not supposed to be carrying guns. Sheriff Long "instructed the CW never to disclose from whom the CW obtained the gun, and that if the CW shot someone, the CW should get rid of the gun."
It was found the gun was made in Brazil and shipped to Elliot Sales in Rome, Ga., in 1968.
The CW phoned Sheriff Long on Jan. 18 in New Orleans where he was attending a conference and said he had a $1,000 payment awaiting him when he returned.
Sheriff Long said he would be back Saturday and would get with him to get the payment.
Sheriff Long and the CW met at the CW's business on Jan. 20, and the sheriff was given the $1,000 payment. During the meeting, Sheriff Long expressed his opinion that "feds" were involved in previous dealings with the Indians. Sheriff Long stated, "And I hate feds any d--- way."
The FBI arranged a "drug show" for Sheriff Long on Jan. 24. He went to the CW's business and was paid $2,000. The CW then opened a 10-kilogram package of cocaine that the FBI had obtained from Miami.
The CW told the sheriff he had not been expecting the drug shipment and had called the leader of the drug organization (Chico) to find out what was happening. He told the sheriff that Chico advised him to place the 10 kilograms of cocaine in a box and, after dark, place the box next to a dumpster outside of the CW's business. A runner would be sent to retrieve the package.
Sheriff Long expressed his concern that someone else might take the package, and that he hoped the right person got the package.
Sheriff Long agreed to accept $20,000 for the cocaine shipment. Click here to see the arrest warrant and affidavit. (PDF file)