Monday, February 29, 2016

Kosciusko County Sheriff Indicted On Bribery, Intimidation And Official Misconduct Charges

A Kosciusko County grand jury has returned a sweeping indictment against Sheriff Aaron Rovenstine, a Republican, on charges he accepted bribes from a criminal while housed at the Kosciusko County Jail for special treatment and attempting to intimidate another law enforcement officer to hush him up and impede and investigation. The indictment includes: three felony counts of bribery; one felony count of intimidation; one felony count of assisting a criminal; and five counts of official misconduct. The jailed inmate, Kevin Bronson and an associate of Bronson's, Mark Soto, are also facing corrupt business influence and intimidating charges in connection with the grand jury investigation.

Sheriff Rovenstine is accused of accepting $40,000 in bribe payments from Bronson in exchange for granting special treatment to Bronson as a jail inmate and to Soto as a jail visitor of Bronson. Rovenstine allegedly threatened a law enforcement officer investigating Bronson's conduct while housed as a jail inmate. Rovenstine allegedly permitted Bronson to make unrecorded phone calls and allowed visits with Soto in an effort to hinder the investigation of Bronson. Bronson faces three counts of felony corrupt business influence and seven felony counts of intimidation. Soto faces three counts of felony corrupt business influence and intimidation.

Bronson and Soto are linked to the Aryan Brotherhood white supremacist organization. They are accused of using a business, Young Dragon Enterprises, LLC, to engage in racketeering activities. They are accused of threatening the life of an attorney, David Baker, unless he agreed to perform legal services for a movie or book contract on their behalf. They are also accused of threatening the life of Nate McLaurin and members of his family unless he provided information to them on a superior in the Aryan Brotherhood. The two allegedly used McLaurin to shake down Tyler Silveus for payments totaling more than $84,000. The men are also accused of threatening harm to Brian Hickerson and Corey Green if they didn't agree to perform certain acts, as well as breaking the legs of James King if he didn't cash a check for construction work completed and kick it back to Bronson. They're even accused of threatening a dentist, Dr. Steven Hollar, if he didn't agree to perform dental work on Bronson for free.

There's some pretty nasty charges laid out in the lengthy complaints against Sheriff Rovenstine, Bronson and Soto. I'm a bit surprised these matters are being tried in state court instead of being brought by the feds, considering the nature of the charges. These aren't exactly the kind of criminal charges you to typically expect to be seen brought in a county like Kosciusko. Times have changed. You can read the indictments in full by clicking here.

UPDATE: Advance Indiana has picked up some vibes about this case which may warrant a closer look. I noted earlier my surprise that this case was brought in a state court rather than by federal prosecutors. This case was brought by Marshall County Prosecutor Nelson Chipman in his capacity as a special prosecutor after Kosciusko County Prosecutor Dan Hampton requested his appointment. Rovenstine has enjoyed a favorable reputation in his community from what we've been able to gather, and his friends are in disbelief of the allegations.

Some observers believe there is a turf war taking place among law enforcement, namely the sheriff's department and the Warsaw Police Department, that may have resulted in these unusual charges being made against the popular sheriff. The Warsaw Police Department chief was instrumental in getting the charges brought against Rovenstine. Rovenstine's supporters would point to the character of some of the witnesses relied upon to support these charges against the sheriff and argue that some of them had a real ax to grind against him. It might be wise to keep an open mind on this case until it is more fully developed and argued by prosecutors.

Advance Indiana has also learned that Mark Soto is a highly-respected theology professor at Grace College where students, faculty and administration are shocked by the allegations against him. According to some local news reports, Soto, a part-time minister, had served as a Christian mentor to Bronson and discussed with him a book and movie deal about his past association with the Aryan Brotherhood. Grace College's human resources director, Amanda Banks, told the media that Soto has been placed on administrative leave by the school.


Flogger said...

You have to wonder how much of this goes on elsewhere. I payoff here a payoff there, or some VIP Pulling the Strings. By the way I wish the Police would dump the Frisbee Hats.

Anonymous said...

So the message here is that Indiana Sheriff's are NOT going to get away with running a fiefdom in their respective counties as was customary as recently as the 1980's. Hear that message Sheriff Layton?

Anonymous said...

...and the other message is that the Aryan brotherhood has a lot of money to throw around and knows how to use intimidation as a tool. Something tells me the feds are watching this one closely.

Gary R. Welsh said...

The fact that this case alleges the Aryan Brotherhood corrupted a local law enforcement official leaves me all the more shaking my head that they weren't leading the prosecution of this case. The county prosecutor fully understood the feds had a better arsenal of laws for prosecuting these kinds of crimes at their disposal. It makes me wonder whether the feds believe something is amiss with this investigation.

Sir Hailstone said...

Are the Sheriff and Prosecutor(s) of opposing "political stripes"?

I was under the impression that AB was more active in state penitentiaries not local jails, especially in a smallish community like Warsaw.

Gary R. Welsh said...

They're both Republicans.

Anonymous said...

Special Prosecutor Chipman was one of the 29 candidates for Indiana Supreme Court. See the Feb. 18 summary of his interview on this blog. His father was a Court of Appeals Judge for awhile, resigned from the Indiana COA position and then went back and became a Marshall Superior Court Judge for awhile.

Anonymous said...

I would hardly call Soto an academic. He holds a Doctorate in Ministry (D.Min.) degree. Those are a dime-a-dozen.

Jamie O'Hare said...

Agree that Soto is not an academic. Grace hands out D.Min. degrees to anyone they like. Soto stole the academic work product of a seminary colleague (Ph.D. from Dallas Seminary) about a dozen years ago and taught it in class after the colleague said not to. I won't name the colleague, but people there know at least part of the story. Soto and the administration ran the Ph.D. out of the school because he never fit in and wouldn't let his work be stolen.

My husband has a BA in Bible and MATS from Grace and never took a Soto class because Soto was so arrogant. My husband then went on to get a fully-funded Ph.D. from Notre Dame and is now a tenured university professor. He's also never been arrested.