By SCOTT SONNER (AP) – December 12, 2009
RENO, Nev. — A former sheriff's deputy who pleaded guilty to accepting bribes to give preferential treatment to "Girls Gone Wild" founder Joe Francis while jailed in Reno avoided prison time after U.S. prosecutors argued for leniency Friday due to his cooperation in the case.
Ex-Washoe County deputy Ralph Hawkins was sentenced to three years probation and fined $4,000 for accepting $3,200 in cash and tickets to Oakland Raiders football games from a Francis associate. He acknowledged that in exchange, he had smuggled in sushi, barbecued chicken and other food to the soft porn mogul while he was being held on tax evasion charges last year. Hawkins, 41, who now lives in Florida, had faced up to 10 months in prison after pleading guilty to two counts of accepting a bribe. But assistant U.S. Attorney Ron Rachow argued before U.S. District Court Judge Robert C. Jones that probation was appropriate because Hawkins "provided substantial assistance" in the investigation. Rachow said when the allegations of bribery first surfaced, Hawkins "came forward and gave a complete and detailed statement of his involvement. "To use a colloquialism, he `cowboyed up' right from the get go. He admitted what he did and turned himself in," Rachow said Friday. "Prison would serve no useful purpose in this case." Hawkins told the judge he took full responsibility for his actions. "I whole heartedly regret my behavior. I not only lost my career but more importantly, harmed my family and tarnished the image of not only the Washoe County Sheriff's Office but all of the law enforcement community," he said. "I greatly regret that." Jones said the $4,000 fine corresponded with the overall value of the bribes. "I simply cannot tolerate walking away with any profit from this transaction," the judge said. "The person incarcerated was a real scoundrel and he got away with extraordinary treatment." Jones said he was reluctant to spare Hawkins jail time because he had betrayed the public's trust. "There is nothing worse than the offense of public corruption other than murder or assault or battery. In my opinion it is worse than drug charges," he said before agreeing to sentence Francis to probation. Rachow said that while Hawkins was guilty of smuggling in unauthorized food, he didn't really affect the security of the jail. "If it was more than just providing food to him, it would be a whole different story," Rachow said. Federal public defender Vito de la Cruz said that Hawkins "quickly understood what he did was wrong" then "did the right thing" by coming forward. "He has learned his lesson," he said, adding that the incident prompted jail officials to tighten security measures. In a light moment, Cruz questioned the estimated value of the Raiders tickets. "Given the Oakland Raiders success of the last few years, he probably was ill-advised to take those tickets," he said. "I'm not sure those were of any value." Aaron Weinstein, a Hollywood video and marketing executive who helped produce some of Francis' projects, was charged with three bribery counts in a grand jury indictment in July for allegedly trying to buy off jail officials to help his friend. As part of an agreement reached last month, Weinstein agreed to plead guilty to a lesser charge of providing contraband in prison, a crime punishable by up to six months in prison and a $5,000 fine. A sentencing date has not been set. Francis, who filmed and marketed videos of naked young women, was indicted by a federal grand jury in Reno on tax evasion charges in 2007. A federal judge in Los Angeles sentenced him last month to 301 days already served and a year of probation for filing false income tax returns and bribing the jail workers in Nevada.