TOLEDO — Former Allen County Sheriff Sam Crish will be sentenced in September to more than a dozen years behind bars — and could receive a much longer prison sentence — after pleading guilty Monday afternoon in U.S. District Court to five of the six charges filed against him in an federal indictment filed in June 2018.
Crish, 56, who served eight years as sheriff and was elected three times, admitted in federal court Monday afternoon to taking tens of thousands of dollars in bribes from people arrested in prostitution stings and also to allegations that he hired a woman as a nurse at the Allen County jail based solely on the fact that she made interest-free loans totaling more than $22,000 to the former sheriff.
According to U.S. Attorney Gene Crawford, Crish told several individuals from whom he solicited loans that he stood to lose his position as sheriff due to rising personal debt.
After a prosecutor walked through the allegations, Judge James Carr asked Crish, “Did you do these things?”
Crish replied, “Yes, sir.”
Carr continued, “While you were a public official?”
Again, Crish replied, “Yes, sir.”
Under the terms of a plea agreement reached between Crish’s attorney, Zachary Maisch, and federal prosecutors, the former sheriff faces up to 15½ years in prison when sentenced. But presiding Judge James Carr stressed during Monday’s plea hearing that the ultimate sentence rests entirely in his (Carr’s) hands.
“The sentence (contained in the plea agreement) is not set in stone,” Carr told Crish. “Whatever is contained in the pre-sentence investigation could cause those estimates to go up or down. Don’t assume that will be the (sentencing) range; it could change. It could be greater or lesser.”
Per the deal with prosecutors, Crish must also pay restitution totaling $606,221 to persons to be identified at the time of sentencing, according to U.S. Attorney Gene Crawford.
Crish faced two counts of extortion, three counts of soliciting bribes and a single count of making a false statement to investigators. The deal with prosecutors makes one of the soliciting bribery charges disappear.
Crish was allowed to remain free on a $50,000 signature bond until the time of sentencing.
“The conduct Mr. Crish admitted to is as offensive as it is audacious,” U.S. Attorney Justin E. Herdman said in a statement released Monday afternoon. “Demanding bribes from gamblers and johns arrested in prostitution stings reads like something out of a bad movie. This defendant let down the people of Allen County and the men and women who served with him at the sheriff’s office. He does not represent the vast majority of law enforcement, and he will now be held accountable for his crimes.”
Crish resigned as sheriff on Jan. 31, 2017, less than fourth months after the FBI raided his office in downtown Lima on Sept. 7, 2016. He previously acknowledged spending 28 days in a Virginia treatment center because he was a compulsive gambler. Several civil lawsuits reportedly linked to Crish’s gambling debts were filed after those revelations.
“Mr. Crish tarnished his badge when he chose to use his official capacity to influence criminal investigations and to protect self-interests,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Eric Smith said in a press release. “As a law enforcement officer and county sheriff sworn to uphold the law, his conduct was abhorrent. We are pleased that Mr. Crish has now accepted responsibility for his actions.”
The original indictment against Crish outlines alleged dealings between the former sheriff and five separate Allen County residents, who reportedly gave him cash in exchange for special considerations and illegal police protection.
An FBI spokesman previously said no other law enforcement personnel in Allen County were under investigation in connection to Crish’s incident.
Attorneys said Crish would be sentenced under Level 34 of the U.S. sentencing guidelines, which calls for 151 to 188 months for someone with no previous criminal history. He could have faced up to 75 years in prison if convicted on the original six counts of the indictment.
Reach J Swygart at 567-242-0464.