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Man pleads guilty to taking bribes while working at Sebastian County jail

by Thomas Saccente | May 22, 2021 at 6:50 a.m.

FORT SMITH -- A former employee of the Sebastian County Detention Center on Thursday admitted to smuggling contraband items into the jail for money.

Joshua Lane Oliver pleaded guilty to one count of public official bribery, a felony, during a hearing before U.S. District Court Judge P.K. Holmes III, according to court records. Oliver's sentencing was deferred pending preparation of a pre-sentence report, and a signature bond was set at $5,000 with conditions of release.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation was informed in March 2020 by a "cooperating witness" that Oliver, a jailer at the jail at the time, was being paid to smuggle contraband items to an inmate there, according to Oliver's plea agreement. The witness said the inmate's girlfriend paid Oliver $200 per contraband item he smuggled into the jail for the inmate, which included cellphones and, on one occasion, methamphetamine.

Jailers searched the inmate's cell on March 29, 2020, the agreement states. They found a cellphone, an external power bank for charging mobile devices, multiple cellphone chargers and cellphone pieces and loose wires. Records for Oliver's cellphone also showed frequent calls and text messages between him and the inmate's girlfriend.

The girlfriend admitted to FBI agents she paid Oliver to smuggle contraband for the inmate, the agreement states. After agreeing to cooperate with the investigation, she made a recorded phone call to Oliver on April 29, 2020, during which Oliver agreed to smuggle another cellphone into the jail. He also made statements indicating he smuggled contraband in the past, according to the agreement.

Oliver said during an interview May 5, 2020, he had been paid $200 by the inmate's girlfriend to smuggle a cellphone into the jail for the inmate, according to the agreement. He went on to smuggle another cellphone for this inmate, as well as what he believed to be tobacco three to four times.

Oliver said he began smuggling contraband for the inmate because the inmate learned Oliver had "gotten behind" on his bills and offered to pay him to do so, the agreement states. The inmate's girlfriend paid him $300-$400 total for this; however, he denied knowingly smuggling methamphetamine into the jail, according to the agreement.

Philip Pevehouse, public information officer for the Sebastian County Sheriff's Office, said Friday that Oliver's last day as a jailer was May 5, 2020, although he was not terminated. Oliver had worked in that capacity for about six months.

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