NATIONAL NEWS

Tennessee sheriff pleads not guilty to using prison labor for personal profit

Jul 10, 2024, 1:59 PM

FILE - This booking photo provided by the Metro Nashville Police Department on June 12, 2024, shows...

FILE - This booking photo provided by the Metro Nashville Police Department on June 12, 2024, shows Gibson County Sheriff Paul Thomas. The sitting Tennessee sheriff pleaded not guilty Wednesday, July 10, to charges that he illegally profited from the work of jail inmates under his supervision and housed dozens of them in a home outside of the prison without permission. (Metro Nashville Police Department via AP, File)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(Metro Nashville Police Department via AP, File)

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — A sitting Tennessee sheriff pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges that he illegally profited from the work of jail inmates under his supervision and housed dozens of them in a home outside of the prison without permission.

Gibson County Sheriff Paul Thomas entered the plea to 18 charges during a circuit court hearing in Trenton, his lawyer, William Massey, said in a text message. Gibson’s next court hearing in the county where he remains sheriff is set for Oct. 22, Massey said.

Thomas was indicted in May in Gibson and Davidson counties on 22 charges, including official misconduct, theft, forgery and computer crimes involving jail inmates in his custody.

Thomas will have an arraignment hearing on the four Davidson County charges in Nashville on a later date. Massey has said that Thomas deserves the presumption of innocence, and he looks forward to defending himself in court.

Investigators said Thomas was an investor in three for-profit companies that provided staffing assistance to local businesses, housed current and former inmates in a transitional home, and provided transportation to work-release inmates and former inmates traveling to and from work.

Thomas failed to disclose his ownership interest in the companies, known as Alliance Group, in his annual filings with the Tennessee Ethics Commission, Tennessee Comptroller Jason Mumpower said June 13.

Thomas directed more than $1.4 million in inmate wage fees and deductions to profit Alliance Group, investigators said. At least 170 inmates in Thomas’ custody were employed by Alliance’s staffing agency during the investigation, investigators said.

Alliance Transportation was paid $18 per day to bring inmates to and from work, while 82 inmates were allowed, without proper approval, to live at Orchard House transitional home instead of the Gibson County jail, investigators said, noting that they were charged $40 per day by the home,

He received more than $181,000 in compensation, payroll benefits and legal representation services from Alliance — money that was illegally derived from inmate labor, the comptroller’s office said.

Investigators said Thomas also deceived the Tennessee Department of Correction by showing the county jail as the inmate location in the state’s offender management system rather than the transitional home, resulting in the county collecting more than $500,000 in reimbursements from the state.

Thomas then required the county to give that money to Orchard House without the correction department’s knowledge or consent, officials said

“Orchard House was neither attached to the jail nor staffed by jail personnel, and no contract existed between the county and Orchard House,” the comptroller’s office said.

The Associated Press in May released a series of stories related to U.S. prison labor.

Rural Gibson County is northwest of Memphis. Thomas’ indictment comes more than seven years after another Gibson County sheriff, Chuck Arnold, pleaded guilty to charges including fraud, theft, forgery and official misconduct related to the removal of drugs and money from a jail medication fund.

Arnold was sentenced to probation.

National News

Vice President Kamala Harris boards Air Force Two, Monday, July 22, 2024 at Andrews Air Force Base,...

Associated Press

Democratic delegates cite new energy while rallying behind Kamala Harris for president

After weeks of intraparty division over President Joe Biden’s candidacy, delegates to the upcoming Democratic National Convention on Tuesday rallied rapidly and enthusiastically behind Vice President Kamala Harris as their party’s new presidential candidate. Suddenly, some delegates said, they have a lot more to look forward to at their national meeting in Chicago. “Before it […]

2 minutes ago

Image: Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., leaves federal court in New York, Tuesday, July 16, 2024. Menende...

Associated Press

US Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey is resigning following his corruption conviction

U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez is resigning from office Aug. 20 following his conviction for taking bribes for corrupt acts.

13 minutes ago

Associated Press

Fires threaten towns, close interstate in Pacific Northwest as heat wave continues

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Firefighters in the Pacific Northwest scrambled Tuesday to contain two fires that were threatening several small towns in Oregon, and a key stretch of interstate connecting Oregon and Idaho was shut down as flames advanced. Authorities ordered Interstate 84 in eastern Oregon shut down in both directions for about 130 miles […]

21 minutes ago

Republican vice presidential candidate Sen. JD Vance, R-Ohio, speaks at a campaign rally at Radford...

Associated Press

Clip resurfaces of Vance criticizing Harris for being ‘childless,’ testing Trump’s new running mate

Comments Donald Trump’s running mate JD Vance made in 2021 questioning Vice President Kamala Harris’ leadership because she did not have biological children have resurfaced, testing the young conservative senator in his early days campaigning as part of Republicans’ presidential ticket. During Vance’s bid for the Senate from Ohio, he said in a Fox News […]

29 minutes ago

Associated Press

Rushed railcar inspections and ‘stagnated’ safety record reinforce concerns after fiery Ohio crash

Major freight railroads are rushing railcar inspections, reinforcing known safety concerns raised by unions for years, but at a House hearing Tuesday they’ll present new evidence from federal inspectors that railcar checks are routinely less than two minutes per car. The unions have sounded the alarm often in recent years as the major railroads all […]

31 minutes ago

Vice President Kamala Harris arrives at her campaign headquarters in Wilmington, Del., Monday, July...

Associated Press

Kamala Harris faces a major test as she looks for a running mate for her White House run

WASHINGTON (AP) — Vice President Kamala Harris is zeroing in on four potential candidates as she races to choose a running mate for her fledgling campaign, fast-tracking a process that usually takes months but must be finalized in only a few weeks. Eric Holder, the former U.S. attorney general, and a team of lawyers at […]

35 minutes ago

Tennessee sheriff pleads not guilty to using prison labor for personal profit