10.26.08 | Issues: Dog/Cock Fighting
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) - By LARRY O'DELL
A rural Virginia sheriff faces racketeering, conspiracy and other charges stemming from accusations that he took bribes in exchange for promising not to interfere with a cockfighting ring.
A 22-count indictment against Page County Sheriff Daniel W. Presgraves unsealed Thursday also accuses him of intimidating potential witnesses. The indictment alleges he sexually assaulted and harassed four female employees, harassed seven others and intimidated another.
Presgraves, 46, pleaded not guilty at a court appearance and was released on $50,000 bond. If convicted of all charges, he faces up to 304 years in prison.
U.S. Magistrate B. Waugh Crigler warned that he would not hesitate to throw Presgraves in jail if he violates an order not to carry out his duties as sheriff while the case is pending.
"He's not going to parade around in Page County in a sheriff's uniform or in a sheriff's car," Crigler said. "If I was indicted, do you think they'd let me put on a black cape and do this job? I don't think so."
Presgraves' attorney, David G. Barger, did not officially object but told the judge the sheriff was "re-elected under the cloud of this investigation" and that the order essentially voids the citizens' votes.
Barger told reporters outside the courtroom that Presgraves will vigorously fight the charges.
"Certainly there are allegations in there that, in my opinion, are done just to titillate the public and that's too bad," Barger said.
Acting U.S. Attorney Julia Dudley and said at a news conference earlier in the day that the bribes were just the outer layer of criminal activities uncovered during the investigation.
"It's a very sad day when we have to stand before you to report that a federal grand jury has found sufficient cause to return an indictment against an elected public official," Dudley said.
According to Dudley, the sheriff accepted at least two $500 bribes from operators of the Little Boxwood cockfighting pit near Stanley, Va. Several people have already pleaded guilty to participating in the cockfighting ring, and one is awaiting trial.
The sheriff also is accused of intimidating witnesses in the federal investigation, demanding that they take their knowledge of his activities "to the grave."
The indictment alleges that from 2001 to 2004, Presgraves deposited more than $100,000 in public funds into a personal account and that he used Page County Jail inmates to work on his and relatives' properties. He even contacted state prison officials and persuaded them not to transfer inmates so they could keep working for him, the indictment says.
Presgraves, who lives in Luray, was a state Alcoholic Beverage Control agent for 15 years before being elected sheriff in 2000.
The grand jury also separately indicted Chester William Fannon of Middleburg and the Virginia Game Fowl Breeders Association for allegedly making illegal campaign contributions to candidates for public office. Fannon was the president of the association. Fannon also pleaded not guilty Thursday afternoon and was released on $50,000 unsecured bond.
According to the indictment, Fannon made contributions using his personal funds and was later illegally reimbursed by the association. Fannon, 47, is accused of making more than $11,000 in illegal contributions to various candidates.