Rutherford sheriff's family, deputy tied to jail vendors

Friday, April 10, 2015, Vol. 39, No. 15

MURFREESBORO (AP) - The Rutherford County sheriff's aunt, uncle and chief deputy own companies selling electronic cigarettes and snacks to inmates at the county jail, and his wife works part-time for one of the companies.

WSMV-TV reports ( the state comptroller is investigating the connection between Sheriff Robert Arnold, Chief Deputy Joe Russell and the companies JailCigs and JailSnacks.

Arnold previously disclosed on a state ethics form that his wife works part-time for JailCigs. But Arnold told the television station he did not know that his chief deputy, who is also his next-door neighbor, owns that company along with Arnold's aunt and uncle.

"I'm kind of shocked about that," he said. "I guess I'm taken back on that."

He also told the station he would probably stop allowing the sales of JailCigs' electronic cigarettes in his jail.

JailCigs is supposed to give the sheriff's department a cut of its profits, but county finance officials told the station they had never seen those checks. If the company were not paying a portion of its profits to the county, that would mean more money for the company and its owners.

Russell is in charge of the sheriff's department's finances, so he would have any records of checks from the company. The sheriff's office said Russell could not be reached because he was on vacation this week.

A check from JailCigs to Sumner County was signed by Russell, and the address listed on the check was Russell's home address in Murfreesboro.

Rutherford County Mayor Ernest Burgess said he is "very, very concerned" about the situation.

"We're going to cooperate to our fullest degree to allow a thorough and complete investigation to take place," he said.