ELKINS, W.Va. — Embattled Barbour County Sheriff John Hawkins resigned Thursday after pleading guilty to a federal fraud charge.
U.S. Attorney Bill Ihlenfeld said federal prosecutors possessed overwhelming evidence that Hawkins faked a traffic accident last April in order to collect more than $8,000 from Nationwide Insurance. His resignation was part of a plea deal he entered with prosecutors.
Ihlenfeld said Hawkins sought insurance money by wrecking his wife’s SUV into a tree on a farm that he leased, but then telling the insurance company the wreck happened on a county road. Hawkins had an accident report from one of his deputies to prove it. Ihlenfeld said another deputy had suspicions and reported the accident to the State Police who, along with the state Insurance Commission and federal authorities, uncovered the fraud.
Ihlenfeld said the electronic data recorder was eventually pulled from the SUV.
“Investigators had an accident reconstructionist look at the results of the data that was pulled from that recorder and realized the story the former sheriff had given was not true,” Ihlenfeld said.
Hawkins also used his sheriff’s department letterhead and email account in his correspondence with Nationwide.
“He used his title, he used one of his deputies and completely took advantage of the system and abused the public trust,” Ihlenfeld said.
Prosecutors discussed other allegations against Hawkins—theft from the sheriff’s tax office, the mishandling of an estate and allegations of civil rights violations— during Thursday’s federal court hearing in Elkins. Yet Ihlenfeld said he decided not to pursue those charges “because we wanted to get him out of office and we wanted him to be held accountable—and he has been held accountable via this fraud conviction today”
Facing up to 20 years in prison, Hawkins is free on bond and will be sentenced later this year, Ihlenfeld said.
Hawkins pleaded guilty to a federal information, which usually indicates a defendant is cooperating with prosecutors. Ihlenfeld said the overwhelming evidence against the former sheriff left him with little choice.
“We advised him and his attorney if they didn’t accept the offer we were going to pursue not only this charge but other charges, and that caused him to quickly sign the agreement,” Ihlenfeld said.
As part of his plea, Hawkins must make full restitution to Nationwide.
Ihlenfeld said the investigation continues against the deputy who was involved in the fake accident.
Following months of complaints from residents about Hawkins, the prosecutor said Barbour County is better off after the sheriff’s resignation.
“I think it’s a good day for the people of Barbour County that this person is no longer the sheriff,” Ihlenfeld said.