Hawkins sentenced to federal prison

ELKINS – Former Barbour County Sheriff John Hawkins was sentenced Tuesday to serve a year and a day in federal prison after pleading guilty to a mail fraud charge.

U.S. District Judge John Preston Bailey issued a sentence harsher than the advisory sentencing guideline range, citing Hawkins’ betrayal of the trust of Barbour County’s citizens.

Hawkins, 48, of Philippi, will self-report to prison in July. He resigned his sheriff’s position after entering his guilty plea in February.

The courtroom was completely silent Tuesday as Hawkins stood with his attorney, Harry A. Smith III, awaiting his sentencing. Bailey leafed through papers and considered documents for about 10 minutes before issuing Hawkins’ sentence.

“It is the judgment of this court that the defendant, John W. Hawkins, is hereby committed to the custody of the Bureau of Prisons to be imprisoned for a term of 12 months and one day,” Bailey said. “The court makes the following recommendations to the Bureau of Prisons: That the defendant be incarcerated as close to Barbour County, W.Va., as possible, and that the defendant be allowed to participate in any educational or vocational opportunities while incarcerated as determined by the Bureau of Prisons.”

Bailey said, upon release from prison, Hawkins is to be placed on supervised release for three years. Bailey said Hawkins is also required to make restitution of $8,262.65 to Nationwide Insurance Co.

Prior to sentencing, Hawkins spoke before Bailey and those gathered in the courtroom Tuesday.

“The one thing I would ask you to consider is my entire life,” Hawkins said. “I am 48 years old, and there is a lot more to my life than what you see in that file. I have been a public servant for over 30 years – I started out in the fire department. I have done a lot of good in my life.”

Hawkins said he has spent his life helping others.

“I delivered a baby in the front seat of a truck when the mother could not make it to the hospital,” Hawkins said. “I did CPR and breathed life into a baby that the mother had thrown in a bag of garbage and discarded – and the baby lived. I held the hand of a 17-year-old boy as he took his last breath and delivered the message to his parents of what he wanted to tell them.”

Hawkins said his wife has stood by him when most wives would have walked away.

“I have four sons that I have tried to raise in the church and teach them right from wrong,” Hawkins said.

“In April of 2013, I made a bad choice,” he said. “I can offer up a lot of excuses and a lot of reasons, and a lot of things that built up to that bad choice. Those don’t matter. I made a bad choice – a bad decision. I admitted to what I did. I accept responsibility for what I did.”

Hawkins said he would live the rest of his life as a law-abiding citizen.

“All that I can ask of you is that you show me some degree of mercy,” Hawkins said. “I ask that you show me some degree of mercy so that I can continue to work, support my family and continue to raise my family and be a part of their lives.”

During sentencing, Bailey spoke about the impact of Hawkins’ actions.

“This court finds this case to be, in a sense, tragic,” Bailey said. “The defendant has done a lot of good in his life, and he has good family and good family support. He made a bad decision. He not only made a bad decision that involves himself, but he dragged a deputy into it, who has since lost his job.”

Bailey said the people of Barbour County relied on Hawkins as their duly elected sheriff.

“They placed their trust in him and he betrayed that trust,” Bailey said. “He was in a position to set an example for the people of Barbour County, particularly the young people of Barbour County, and he failed to do so. He failed to promote respect for the law.”

Bailey said Hawkins’ crime must be punished.

“To allow the crime committed in this case to go essentially unpunished would undermine the trust that the community has in those elected or appointed to serve as law enforcement members,” Bailey said. “Although the defendant is eligible for a sentence of home confinement or probation, this court believes that a sentence of imprisonment is necessary to fulfill the purposes of sentencing, including punishment and deterrents.”

Bailey said he would permit Hawkins to self-report to the authorities on July 15.

“I want to make it clear that I do not want Mr. Hawkins to spend any time in a regional jail within the state of West Virginia,” Bailey said. “If no designation has been made, I would expect a request to extend the court date so that he would not be in a local jail.”

U.S. Attorney William J. Ihlenfeld II and Assistant U.S. Attorney John C. Parr prosecuted the case.

Hawkins, 47, admitted in his plea to staging a motor vehicle accident in 2013, ultimately filing a false insurance claim with the assistance of one of his law enforcement officers.

As part of the plea agreement, Hawkins was forced to resign as sheriff. He also had to relinquish his West Virginia Law Certification and agree not to serve in any law enforcement capacity in the future.

During the plea hearing in February, an FBI special agent testified that Hawkins had been under investigation by the FBI since 2012, while the mail fraud allegation was brought to the government’s attention in 2013.

Ihlenfeld said in February the key point his office was trying to achieve was to have Hawkins resign as sheriff and be held accountable for some of the criminal conduct officials believed he committed.

In a press release Tuesday, Ihlenfeld urged anyone with information regarding public corruption in their community to call the West Virginia Public Corruption Hotline at 855-WVA-FEDS (855-982-3337), or to send an email to wvafeds@usdoj.gov.

The mail fraud case wasn’t Hawkins’ first legal entanglement in recent months.

In July, teenager Brittany Mae Keene filed a 15-count lawsuit in federal court for the Northern District of West Virginia, alleging Hawkins sexually assaulted her and then threatened to kill her if she told anyone. The suit also accuses Hawkins of sexually assaulting five other unnamed females, referenced only as Females No. 1-5.

Hawkins has repeatedly denied Keene’s allegations, which she first made public in summer 2012.

One week after Keene’s July lawsuit was filed, Barbour County private investigator Franklin D. Streets filed a lawsuit in Barbour County Circuit Court against Hawkins that accuses the former lawman of libel and defamation – accusations stemming from Streets’ investigation of the Keene case.

In an unrelated incident, audits of the Barbour County Commission for fiscal years 2011 and 2012 returned findings that an unspecified amount of money was misused from the Barbour County Sheriff Department’s weapons fund to purchase flowers, alcohol and gift cards for sheriff’s deputies and office staff.

The audit results were announced in September. Hawkins repeatedly declined to comment about the findings.

In December, Barbour County Commissioner Phil Hart openly questioned whether Hawkins was neglecting his duties as sheriff. Again, Hawkins vehemently denied any allegations of wrongdoing or neglect of duties.