By Andrea McCann
EVANSVILLE — Vanderburgh County Circuit Court Judge Carl Heldt on Tuesday sentenced Ron Morgan, former chief deputy of the Daviess County Sheriff’s Department, to one year of probation for ghost employment.
Although ghost employment is a Class D felony, the judge had the option of treating it as a Class A misdemeanor, and Morgan’s attorney, John A. Goodridge of Evansville, requested that Judge Heldt do so. Morgan could have faced six months to three years incarceration and up to a $10,000 fine if convicted on the felony charge.
“When it’s a Class D felony, the judge can treat it as a Class A misdemeanor,” said Vanderburgh County Special Prosecutor Stan Levco, who moved to dismiss original charges of bribery and assisting a criminal following Judge Heldt’s acceptance of a plea agreement filed Oct. 8.
Heldt was ordered in January to hear Morgan’s case after Daviess Superior Court Judge Dean A. Sobecki recused himself due to conflict of interest. Levco was assigned to present the state’s case against Morgan, who originally was indicted by a grand jury in October 2011 for bribery and assisting a criminal, both Class C felonies, while employed by the Daviess County Sheriff’s Office. A Class C felony carries a term of two to eight years incarceration and possible fine up to $10,000.
The charges followed an Indiana State Police investigation into allegations of official misconduct that surfaced during a drug investigation by the sheriff’s department. According to an ISP press release at that time, a female subject in the investigation told officers Morgan asked her for sexual favors in return for protection from arrest and also allegedly shared privileged information with her.
“Our position is that the substance of the indictment was wholly without merit, but my client did have a relationship with a person while on duty,” Goodridge said when explaining the basis for the plea agreement. “That person had no criminal involvement whatsoever, so that can form a basis for ghost employment under the statute as it’s written.”
From Levco’s point of view, he said he believed there was a chance he wouldn’t be able to prove the original charges beyond a reasonable doubt, so he and Goodridge worked out the agreement.
Under the plea agreement, the former chief deputy was charged with one count of ghost employment — accepting a salary from the sheriff’s department while engaged in activities not related to performance of his duties. It states: “That between November 1, 2009, and August 31, 2011, in Daviess County, State of Indiana, Ronald W. Morgan, a public servant employed by a governmental entity, the Daviess County Sheriff’s Department, knowingly accepted property, to-wit: United States currency in the form of a salary for the performance of his duties as Chief Deputy Sheriff of Daviess County, while engaging in activity not related to the performance of his duties or the operation of the governmental entity, to-wit: Ronald W. Morgan, between November 1, 2009, and August 31, 2011, while on duty and in uniform repeatedly engaged in inappropriate sexual activity with a female, T.J.”
Daviess County Sheriff Jerry Harbstreit, with full endorsement by his deputies, issued a statement Tuesday. In it, he said: “This has been a very difficult and stressful experience for our sheriff’s office.
“Many individuals have spent a considerable amount of time, money and resources on this case.
“Ronald W. Morgan’s inappropriate decisions and conduct impaired the orderly operation of the Daviess County Sheriff’s Office, subjected his fellow officers to ridicule, and violated the public trust of the community, all contrary to the established rules and regulations of our office.
“Getting back to normal can be a difficult process after an experience of this kind. We are hurt and sorry these events occurred, but being naturally resilient, we are committed to conduct ourselves, whether on duty or off duty, in a manner that will not bring dishonor or disrepute.”
Morgan and his wife, Mary, also released a statement, which said: “We are so very thankful now to have closure. Few people know the toll this has taken on our family and the community, and we are hopeful now the healing can begin.
“While this nightmare has been ever-present for more than one year, my family and I could not have withstood this challenge without the unwavering support of family and friends. There is a place in heaven for those who provided us strength through prayers, hugs and kind words.
“For now, my family and I ask that others respect our request for privacy as we try to move forward and distance ourselves from this ordeal.”