Ferguson is interim Barbour sheriff

PHILIPPI – The Barbour County Commission on Friday appointed an interim sheriff to replace John Hawkins following his sudden resignation Thursday after pleading guilty to a mail fraud indictment in federal court.

Sgt. Philip G. Ferguson was appointed for a period of up to 30 days to serve as the interim sheriff until the Barbour County Democratic Executive Committee submits three proposed Democratic replacements to the Commission by March 7.

Commissioner Jedd Schola told The Inter-Mountain that Ferguson was selected by the Commission because he is the senior officer of the Barbour County Sheriff’s Department.

County Commission President Tim McDaniel told The Inter-Mountain Thursday night that, until an officer was appointed, Chief Deputy Brett Carpenter would be in charge.

The Commission met Friday afternoon in special session at the Barbour County Courthouse to promptly appoint an emergency replacement for Hawkins, as required by law.

“We cannot do our deposits,” Schola said just moments before Friday’s late-afternoon meeting began.

“We really can’t do anything without the sheriff because he’s the treasurer of the county.”

Commissioners also accepted the resignation of Hawkins during the special meeting. According to the meeting minutes, Hawkins’ resignation was effective at 5 p.m. Thursday.

The Inter-Mountain requested a copy of the resignation letter, but Schola said the letter was determined to be “privileged information” by Hawkins’ legal counsel, Harry Smith. Schola said the resignation letter was only one sentence long, and he would consult the Commission’s lawyer, Keith Gamble of the Morgantown law firm Pullin, Fowler, Flanagan, Brown & Poe, about The Inter-Mountain’s request for a copy. The newspaper has prepared a Freedom of Information request to the country Friday requesting a copy of the document.

Schola later said he was advised by the Commission’s lawyer against providing a copy of the letter.

Prosecuting Attorney Leckta Poling, who also attended the special meeting, requested that a financial audit be completed as quickly as possible, according to the meeting minutes. Commissioners then informed Poling that they already had contacted the West Virginia State Auditor’s office. An auditor is scheduled to arrive at the Barbour County Courthouse Monday to begin financial checks in the wake of Hawkins’ exit.

Hawkins pleaded guilty to one felony count of mail fraud Thursday afternoon before U.S. Magistrate John S. Kaull in the Elkins office of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia.

As part of the plea agreement, Hawkins, 47, agreed to immediately resign as sheriff of Barbour County and relinquish his West Virginia Law Certification. Hawkins also agreed not to serve in any law enforcement capacity in the future.

The plea stemmed from an incident in which Hawkins staged a motor vehicle accident, ultimately filing a false insurance claim with the assistance of one of his law enforcement officers, whose name has not been released.

Hawkins has been released pending sentencing. A presentence investigation is being conducted. The sentencing date has not yet been set.

According to an order setting the conditions of Hawkins’ release – obtained through the online Public Access to Court Electronic Records System – Hawkins cannot violate any federal, state or local laws while on release; must advise the court, pretrial service office or supervising officer before changing his residence or telephone number; and cannot leave the Northern District of West Virginia prior to his sentencing hearing.