by Michael Anderson
After more than a year since the indictment, and a judge and prosecutor stepping aside due to illness, the trial of Kosciusko County Sheriff Aaron Rovenstine begins Monday.
Rovenstine faces 10 felony charges, including bribery and official misconduct. The jury trial is scheduled for three weeks in Kosciusko Circuit Court, with three days scheduled for jury selection.
If an impartial jury can not be found, the trial will be moved to another county.
Rovenstine was indicted in February 2016 along with former Grace College Professor Mark Soto and former martial arts instructor Kevin Bronson.
The trial was scheduled to start in February, but a last-minute motion filed by Rovenstine’s attorney delayed the trial.
Elkhart Superior Court I Evan Roberts set a Feb. 24 deadline for any significant motions to be filed in the case, preventing a similar situation.
Roberts stepped away from the case in mid March due to illness, and Elkhart County Superior Court II Judge Stephen Bowers will now preside over the trial.
Special prosecutor Nelson Chipman also became ill and is allowing the case to be tried by his deputies, Matthew Sarber and Tami Napier.
Rovenstine is accused of agreeing to accept $40,000 to give Bronson special privileges while in was in jail. Prosecutors believe the money was promised by Bronson by adding Rovenstine to his will. Among the alleged privileges, Rovenstine allowed Bronson to communicate with Soto unrecorded despite a request from Warsaw police to record conversations between the two men.
Warsaw Police Officer Paul Heaton was investigating Soto and Bronson’s attempts to raise money for Bronson’s martial arts gym, Young Dragon Enterprises, and a movie based on his life in the Aryan Brotherhood and subsequent conversion to Christianity.
Bronson was raising the money at Christ’s Covenant Church, which both Bronson and Heaton attended.
The movie was never made and Bronson’s gym went out of business. Bronson was arrested for possession of cocaine in December 2014.
According to court records, Warsaw police became aware that Bronson and Soto were meeting unmonitored, and sent a formal request to Rovenstine asking him to stop.
Prosecutors contend the unrecorded contact continued.
On July 2, 2015, Heaton and Police Chief Scott Whitaker meet with Rovenstine to discuss the unrecorded contacts.
After Whitaker left, Rovenstine told Heaton, “It almost sounded to me like Scott was infering I was dirty. … Well, you know, I could go into, you’re a drug investigator. You do things with informants that are convicted felons. I mean, I could paint a story like you’re some crook because you’re dealing with informants that are … you know … and they accused you of doing this,” the affidavit states.
The affidavit states Whitaker took a picture of Soto and Bronson meeting unmonitored on Aug. 4, 2015. Also on Aug. 4, 2015, ISP took over the investigation.
Later in August 2015, Heaton was denied entry to the jail. Bronson was then transfered to Marshall County Jail to ensure his calls and meetings were being recorded.
The affidavit alleges Rovenstine threatened Heaton in a subsequent telephone call by saying,
“I don’t wanna start World War III, because everybody’s gonna lose. I guarantee you, you think you hold everything. You don’t. This will be ugly. I’m the sheriff, I have investigators too,”
Sometime after July 2015, KCSD launched an investigation into Heaton under allegations that he conducted himself improperly during drug investigations.
On March 11, 2016, a Warsaw woman, Kim Richardson, told the Times-Union she approached KCSD to complain about Heaton in July 2015.
She claimed Heaton harassed her, threatened to plant evidence and told her he would bust her for meth if she didn’t cooperate with him.
She filed for a protective order against Heaton. The order was denied without a hearing by Kosciusko Superior Court III Judge Joe Sutton.
The results of KCSD’s investigation into Heaton’s conduct have never been released to the public.
In addition to facing prison time if convicted, Rovenstine would lose his position as sheriff.
According to Matt Kochevar, co-general counsel at the Indiana Election Commission, if Rovenstine is convicted of a felony, he would be removed from office under state law immediately.
Kosciusko County Republican precinct committeemen would caucus within 30 days to fill the position, Kochevar said.