Corruption wrecked career of Page County, Va., sheriff

Daniel Presgraves, right, the former Page County, Va., sheriff, is shown with Charles E. James Jr., one of his attorneys, before his sentencing in federal court.
Daniel Presgraves, right, the former Page County, Va., sheriff, is shown with Charles E. James Jr., one of his attorneys, before his sentencing in federal court. (Michael Reilly/Associated Press)
By Fredrick Kunkle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 20, 2009

LURAY, VA. -- For many years, Daniel W. Presgraves, the former sheriff of Page County, struck a lot of folks here as cocky.

For a while, Presgraves had plenty to brag about. With rakish charm and raw power, the sheriff built his tiny department into a formidable political machine, the likes of which had not been seen in a place known mostly for its scenic caverns and Blue Ridge mountain vistas.

People knew him as Danny, and he won them over with innovations such as using inmates from the county jail to deliver Meals on Wheels. After first winning office in 1999, Presgraves handily beat back challengers and cozied up to some of Virginia's most prominent Republicans, including former governor George Allen, former attorney general Jerry W. Kilgore and Rep. Eric Cantor, now the House minority whip.

When President George W. Bush went to Shenandoah National Park to give a speech in 2007, Presgraves was front and center to welcome him.

So, to his critics at least, it seemed fitting that Presgraves's swaggering style would meet its comeuppance partially because of his interest in protecting gambling on the age-old blood sport of cockfighting, and partially because he saw himself as irresistible to women in his office whom he harassed.

On Friday morning, Presgraves appeared before U.S. District Court Judge Glen E. Conrad in Harrisonburg, Va., for sentencing on a doozy of a racketeering case. The judge sentenced him to 19 months in prison and a $1,000 fine. Presgraves, 47, who pleaded guilty in August, also forfeited $75,000.

"Today, Danny Presgraves acknowledged his wrongdoing and apologized to the citizens of Page County," his lead attorney, Charles E. James Jr., said afterward. "While recognizing the harm Danny has caused, the court also considered his entire life's work as a law enforcement officer."

The 22-count indictment, returned in October 2008, accused Presgraves of accepting a $500 bribe to protect cockfighting at a pit known as Little Boxwood, sexually harassing a dozen female employees and using inmates from the jail to work on his and relatives' properties. The indictment also said he conspired to deal marijuana, tipped off a local company about the federal investigation, embezzled $86,410 -- including money extorted from the jail's pay phone vendor -- and attempted to launder about $200,000 through complex bank transactions.

As part of the plea, Presgraves admitted only that he had used inmate labor illegally and had tried to persuade witnesses to lie about his conduct.

Witnesses told the grand jury that Presgraves made lewd comments to female employees and groped them. It was alleged that he told one woman that he had been thinking of her while he was having sex with his wife and that he dropped his pants for another, asking her to "take care of things." When federal investigators came calling, Presgraves allegedly warned the women to keep quiet, saying that they should take his secret "to the grave."

Thomas J. Bondurant Jr., the assistant U.S. attorney who led the investigation, used a single word to explain Presgraves's downfall: "arrogance."

"He thought he was like king of the county and he could do anything he wanted to -- and for some years, he did," Bondurant said, speaking on the steps of the courthouse after Presgraves pleaded guilty Aug. 28.


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