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Calcote plea agreement nets two years probation

Former Lincoln County Sheriff Wiley Calcote pleaded guiltyTuesday afternoon to one count of embezzlement by a public officialon a multi-count indictment issued last month.

Calcote, 46, was sentenced on the one count to two years ofunsupervised probation and ordered to pay $895 restitution andcourt costs by Special Circuit Court Judge Robert L. Goza, Jr.Under a plea agreement, the first-term sheriff resigned earlierTuesday and other charges in the 15-count indictment against himwill not be pursued.

Calcote’s wife, Marlette, said he was “doing all right under thecircumstances,” but would not comment further when contacted athome Tuesday night.

The restitution covered the cost of 331 gallons of diesel fuelfor his personal truck and tractor between Aug. 29 and Oct. 17,2005. The stolen fuel was part of a special Federal EmergencyManagement Agency appropriation to the county to assist emergencypersonnel immediately following the devastation of HurricaneKatrina.

District Attorney Dee Bates said he regarded the fuelembezzlement as the most serious of the 15 charges facing thesheriff. Bates said the sheriff’s actions displayed a lack ofcompassion during a time of public crisis.

“It bothered me. It was insulting,” Bates said followingCalcote’s court appearance. “The fuel was appropriated whileeveryone else was waiting in mile-long lines for gas, and I wassiphoning gas from my truck (to use in another familyvehicle).”

Goza upheld the sentencing recommendation of the prosecution,saying the sentence would allow both Calcote and the public to moveforward.

An order of conviction was not entered in Calcote’s case. Underthe law, Calcote’s record can be cleared if he meets therequirements of the plea and follows the terms of probation duringthe two-year period. Without the order of conviction, Calcote couldrun for public office should he meet the requirements of hissentence.

The county board of supervisors appointed Lincoln CountySheriff’s Department Capt. Steve Rushing as sheriff following theguilty plea.

In exchange for the plea, 14 counts on the indictment will notbe prosecuted, Bates said. The remaining charges involved 12 otherfelonies – including additonal embezzlement charges, wire fraud andwitness tampering – and two misdemeanors involving the impropersupervision of inmates in the county jail.

Bates said the terms of the plea agreement were not unusual.

“The Mississippi Supreme Court has mandated that such negotiatedpleas be made where possible to promote judicial economy,” he said.”My office prosecutes approximately 1,500 cases a year and, withonly two judges in the three-county district, it is necessary thatmost of the cases be resolved prior to trial.”

Most importantly for the county, Bates said, is that theagreement and resignation allows the county to move forward onother criminal cases without the shadow of a corrupt sheriff.

“Absent his guilty plea today, Calcote would have remainedsheriff of Lincoln County until he was convicted by a jury, whichcould take up to a year or longer,” he said.

Bates said there are many good officers in the sheriff’sdepartment. However, due to the investigation of the sheriff, itwas extremely difficult for them to work with his office oninvestigating and prosecuting other cases in the county.

“I had to resolve his case as soon as possible so that we couldmove forward with other cases on our docket,” Bates said. “Ibelieve this plea is by far what is in the best interest of LincolnCounty.”

During Tuesday’s court action, a stern Goza warned Calcote thata violation of the terms of his probation would bring a strongresponse from the court.

“It’s always been my belief that you get one bite of the apple,but never two,” he said.

The judge reminded Calcote that should he violate the terms ofhis probation, it could be revoked and he could be incarcerated foras long as 20 years in the state penitentiary.