UPDATE: 6 p.m. Wednesday
Former Brunswick County Sheriff Ronald Hewett was booked at the Brunswick County Detention Center this afternoon on a federal detainer.
Hewett has been charged with possessing a firearm, which has previously traveled in interstate or foreign commerce after having been convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year, according to court records.
Brunswick County Sheriff John Ingram said Hewett–who served about 14 months of a 16-month sentence for obstruction of justice in federal prison—was under federal detainer at the request of the federal bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
ATF agents took Hewett, 51, into custody this afternoon after serving a search warrant at Hewett’s Holden Beach Road home.
According to a probable cause affidavit filed by ATF agent Chad Nesbit, agents seized multiple firearms from Hewett’s home, including a .38-caliber revolver.
“The firearm was not manufactured in the state of North Carolina, and therefore must have been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce, if it was received or possessed in the state of North Carolina,” Nesbit stated.
Ingram wouldn’t comment further, though he said Hewett was being held in isolation.
Hewett served as sheriff of Brunswick County from 1994 until 2008 when he resigned. In May 2008, following a yearlong investigation by state and federal authorities, Hewett was charged with obstruction of justice.
Hewett was charged federally via a criminal complaint on May 8, 2008.
On June 7, 2007, federal agents swarmed the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office with subpoenas for witness testimony and documents. Thirty-two people—mainly sheriff’s deputies—were listed as relevant parties in the investigation, according to court documents.
Months later, in January 2008, another round of federal subpoenas hit the sheriff’s office—this time 28 more people were named relevant parties, including Hewett’s wife, Julie, and his son, Justin.
Concurrently—and behind the scenes—the state was preparing its case against Hewett, including former District Attorney Rex Gore who filed a petition in Brunswick County Superior Court on March 27, 2008, to suspend Hewett as sheriff, alleging political coercion, embezzlement, harassment and intoxication.
(Gore, 65, pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of willful failure to discharge his duties in relation to allegations he conspired with a former assistant district attorney over a five-year period to submit $14,000 worth of travel expenses.)
Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Ola Lewis granted Gore’s petition to suspend Hewett at an evening session of court on March 27. Days later, on April 15, 2008, Hewett resigned as sheriff.
On March 31, 2008, a Brunswick County grand jury indicted Hewett on four felony charges: three counts of embezzlement by a public official and one count of obstruction of justice, according to court records.
On May 8, a criminal complaint was filed in U.S. District Court, stating Hewett “did corruptly endeavor to influence, obstruct and impede a federal grand jury investigation into allegations of corruption of his office as sheriff of Brunswick County.”
He pleaded guilty to one count of obstruction of justice on June 2.
U.S. District Judge W. Earl Britt sentenced Hewett to 16 months in federal prison on the charge in October 2008. Hewett’s state charges were ordered to run concurrently with his federal sentence, meaning serving his full judgment would satisfy the state sentence.
“This is a tragic day in Brunswick County; another tragic day for North Carolina. We have seen far too many public officials convicted either by their own plea or by trial of abusing the public trust,” Britt said as he sentenced Hewett.
According to prison records, Hewett reported to Butner Federal Correctional Facility in November 2009, and was released in January 2010.
Hewett was the second sheriff in Brunswick County to be sentenced to federal prison. In 1984, former sheriff Herman Strong was sentenced to federal prison. Britt sentenced both Strong and Hewett to prison–24 years apart.
In September 2012, the North Carolina General Assembly passed legislation to prohibit convicted felons who were former public officials from collecting state retirement. The law, which took effect Dec. 1, 2012, was to address what State Sen. Thom Goolsby called rampant political corruption in southeastern North Carolina. (Read story).
Check back for more on this developing story.
Caroline Curran is the managing editor of Port City Daily. Reach her at (910) 772-6336 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @Cgcurran