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Louisiana Work-Release Prisoners Used by Sheriff in Chop Shop

In February 2005, Louisiana sheriff Ronald ?Gun? Ficklin was indicted on 22 counts of conspiracy, trafficking in motor vehicles with removed or altered Vehicle Identification Numbers (VINs), removing or altering VINs, aiding and abetting the possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, misprision of a felony for not reporting a felon with a firearm, and mail fraud.

The charges stemmed from a scheme that put state prisoners to work in a local car theft operation. Ficklin?s friend and convicted felon Barry Edward Dawsey ran the illegal business out of B & D Auto Sales in St. Helena Parish. The illicit end of the operation involved buying and selling salvaged and stolen vehicles. When Dawsey was apprehended in a stolen pickup truck, police discovered a gun and Sheriff Ficklin?s badge inside.

Dawsey pleaded guilty in 2006 and is currently serving a 3-year sentence. James Jackson, Mitchell Tidwell and Kevin Simmons also admitted involvement in the car theft ring and pleaded guilty.

Ficklin was originally arrested on a 10-count indictment issued by a federal grand jury. He was released after a detention hearing and posting a $25,000 bond. Twelve more counts were added as the investigation continued.

He was accused of fraud for billing the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections (LDOC) $140,000 when he employed LDOC prisoners in Dawsey?s chop shop operation between October 2000 and September 2001. The LDOC claims it also paid the St. Helena Parish Sheriff?s office nearly $250,000 during that same time period.

Over half of Ficklin?s federal charges are for mail fraud. His attorney, Frank Holthaus, calls the charges ?sad.?

?I think mail fraud is as abused as was hooliganism,? said Holthaus. ?In the Soviet Union, hooliganism was the way people the government didn?t like were charged with a vague crime no one had to define. It?s similar to mail fraud in the United States.? Then again, Ficklin isn?t accused of hooliganism; he?s accused of abusing his public office and the public?s trust.

Cori Leigh Clark, Ficklin?s son-in-law, and the son of Ficklin?s girlfriend, Alton Hoyt McNabb II, were charged with witness tampering, conspiracy and retaliation after they assaulted Louisiana State Police Sgt. Dennis Stewart on July 30, 2005. Stewart had assisted in Ficklin?s investigation, along with FBI and ATF officials.

Ficklin, the third consecutive St. Helena Parish sheriff to be indicted, pleaded guilty to 17 of the federal charges in February 2007. He was sentenced on October 30, 2007, and received prison terms of 60-63 months on each count, to be served concurrently, and assessed $1,700 in costs. He reported to serve his prison sentence in November 2007.

Sources: The Advocate,

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