Indiana sheriff agrees to plea deal right before trial

A northern Indiana sheriff accused of giving special privileges to a jail inmate in exchange for $40,000 has agreed to plead guilty to an intimidation charge in a deal with prosecutors.

Kosciusko County Sheriff Aaron Rovenstine reached the plea deal Wednesday, which was when his trial on bribery and other counts was to begin in Warsaw. In exchange for pleading guilty to the felony charge, prosecutors agreed to drop nine other charges.

The judge scheduled a May 23 sentencing hearing, during which he’ll decide whether to accept Rovenstine’s guilty plea. If the plea is accepted, the Republican sheriff could get six months to 2½ years in prison, but the judge also could reduce it to a misdemeanor conviction. Rovenstine also would automatically lose his job under state law.

Rovenstine was indicted last year on charges alleging that he accepted $40,000 to allow special privileges for a jail inmate and a visitor, including permitting unrecorded phone calls that prosecutors said were meant to hinder punishment of the inmate. He also was accused of intimidating a Warsaw police detective who became suspicious of Rovenstine’s activities.

Prosecutors told reporters after Wednesday’s court session that they couldn’t discuss their reasons for dropping the other charges, including bribery, assisting a criminal and official misconduct.

“I think reason has won out in this case,” said Matt Sarber, one of the special prosecutors from Marshall County handing the case. “The state is satisfied with the resolution.”

Defense attorney Jennifer Lukemeyer said accepting the plea deal was “absolutely” a difficult decision, but declined further comment.

Rovenstine was elected sheriff in 2014 after previously holding the position from 1998 through 2006.

The indictment against Rovenstine alleged he took the bribes from a man jailed on charges of cocaine dealing and criminal gang activity. The indictment said the sheriff allowed unrecorded and unsupervised visits and phone calls between the inmate and a man, both of whom have been charged with intimidating multiple people, including threats to beat or kill the victims and their families.

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