RENO, Nevada — jury acquitted a former Nevada sheriff's deputy of bribery charges Friday after she was accused of accepting nearly $10,000 in gifts in exchange for giving special treatment to the jailed founder of the "Girls Gone Wild" video empire.
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Ex-Washoe County Sheriff's Sgt. Michon Mills embraced her attorney and broke into tears as the foreman of the jury read the verdict in U.S. District Court in Reno Friday evening.
The 39-year-old Carson City woman had been accused of accepting a $4,500 Cartier watch and a $5,000 Saks Fifth Avenue gift card from an associate of Joe Francis while he was jailed in Reno on tax charges in 2007 and 2008.
Mills, who said she returned the gifts and never considered them bribes, had no immediate comment. The jury, which deliberated for six hours, acquitted her on two counts of accepting a gratuity as a public official. Mills had faced up to two years in prison.
"I'm just thrilled for Michon that the jury saw things for what they really are," her lawyer, Leah Wigren, told The Associated Press.
Mills testified during the four-day trial that she didn't initially acknowledge accepting the gifts from Francis' Hollywood associate Aaron Weinstein because she didn't want to get lumped in with two other deputies at the jail who were under investigation for aiding Francis.
The two other former deputies have pleaded guilty to accepting a gratuity as a public official. One of them received $3,200 in cash and four Oakland Raiders tickets in exchange for smuggling sushi, barbecued chicken and other food to Francis.
Mills was assigned as the point of contact person for Francis after he was placed in the mental health housing unit of the jail. Prosecutors said he was allowed to run his multimillion dollar soft porn business while he was there.
"Numerous deputies testified they felt there was a 'hands-off policy' when it came to defendant Francis," Assistant U.S. Attorney Sue Fahami told the 10-woman, two-man jury earlier Friday. "He seemed to have the run of the house."
Wigren said in her closing arguments that the government failed to prove her client did anything to benefit Francis based on the gifts.
"There is no nexus between an official act and the gift," Wigren said.
Mills was given the "unprecedented" assignment to deal directly with Francis and his lawyers because he was internationally known — "a high profile inmate the likes of which they'd never seen before," Wigren said.
By all accounts, Francis was "very needy ... an obnoxious individual ... a 35-year-old multimillionaire with serious behavior problems," Wigren said.
"But it seems from this testimony she's to blame because inmate Francis was a vulgar person," she said.
Mills already has suffered enough by losing her job, the lawyer said.
"Her law enforcement career was destroyed," Wigren said. "She was at the height of her career when her life came crashing into Joe Francis. ... She was making about $100,000 a year and now she is a flagger for the highway."
Ex-Washoe County deputy Ralph Hawkins was sentenced in December to three years probation and fined $4,000 for accepting the cash and tickets to Raiders games from Weinstein after U.S. prosecutors argued for leniency due to his cooperation in the case.
Weinstein is scheduled to be sentenced March 8 as part of a plea-bargain agreement with the U.S. Attorney's Office after he pleaded guilty to a charge of providing contraband in prison.
Mary Boxx, of Sparks, who was an inmate specialist, also pleaded guilty in December to one count of accepting gratuities by a public official. Her sentencing is set for March 14.
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