PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) - On Monday, Portsmouth Sheriff Bill Watson is under more scrutiny after he admitted to paying inmates in his custody to work on his home. Now he’s accused of allowing inmates to do work on a political campaign.
Watson told WAVY.com last week he did violate state law and pay inmates in his work release program to do work on his home. However, the offense happened more than a year ago, the statute of limitations has run, and Watson will not be charged.
However, there’s more possible bad news for the Sheriff.
A new accusation claims Sheriff Watson approved and allowed inmates from his work release program to set up a tent with tables and chairs for a political campaign fundraiser. WAVY.com obtained pictures of Watson's inmate work crew setting up a fundraiser for Vice Mayor Paige Cherry, who can be seen in the pictures wearing a red shirt.
The September 28 fundraiser was in the backyard of Cherry's neighbor.
"My campaign and I contacted the Sheriff about using the tents and chairs because I knew he had done it before all over town," Cherry said.
Sheriff Watson claims he didn't know it was a political fundraiser.
"I wasn't told it was a political fundraiser. A private citizen called and wanted the tent … we set tents up for everybody,” Watson said.
Cherry's neighbor called the Sheriff, and so did Cherry.
Commonwealth's Attorney Earle Mobley is looking into whether Sheriff Watson broke state law.
According to Virginia State Code, section 53.1-128, the authorized places inmate workforces can work at include: public property, cemeteries, nonprofit organizations, for charitable or social welfare purposes, and at an abandoned property considered a nuisance.
Sheriff Watson told WAVY.com he does not regret his inmate workforce setting up the tent. In reaction to the work going against State Code, Watson grabbed the paper with Virginia State Code 53.1-128, crumpled it up and threw it towards the wall.
"This Code – this is what I think. You keep bringing this up, Andy. You are trying to stir up a pot of beans, and these are taxpayers. We treat everybody equally. You can take that code and say we can't cut seniors' grass if you want to push it, but we cut seniors' grass,” Watson said. “We give them firewood. We take care of them in the winter time to make sure they have heat. We make sure they have prescriptions. Now you want to go back to the Code again?"
Actually, State Code denotes work for senior citizens is legitimate: "...private property (a) owned or occupied by an elderly or indigent person or persons where such property has been identified by a citizens housing advisory committee as needing rehabilitation or repair and the property owner has consented to such work."
Sheriff Watson also alleged Commonwealth's Attorney Mobley had used the Sheriff's tent service with the inmates, too. Watson said he wants Mobley to look into the allegations.
“I hope he is, then he will need to charge himself ... we put up a tent for him ... you don't live in a glass house and throw stones,” Sheriff Watson said.
Mobley denies the Sheriff’s claims.
"That is an absolute falsehood,” he said. “I can't believe that a guy, who admitted breaking the law and who is making this a political issue, is now pointing it at me as if I have done something wrong."
Mobley showed WAVY.com a receipt from Big Top Entertainment. His campaign paid the private company $943.94 cents for the tent.
"The Sheriff has never put up tents for me, and I wouldn't let him in my yard, to be frank with you," Mobley said.
Vice Mayor Paige Cherry declared the September 28 event on his financial report “In-Kind Contribution” of $700 for tents, tables and chairs for kick-off of his campaign. Cherry also declared “In-Kind Contribution” of $700 for fair market value for Use of facilities for kick-off.
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