A member of the Rovenstine family has been? Kosciusko County sheriff for 26 of the last 40 years.
That will change now that Sheriff Aaron Rovenstine has pleaded guilty to a single count of felony intimidation – a move that will end his career as a public official and law enforcement officer.
The plea came Wednesday, minutes before Rovenstine was scheduled to face a jury trial on 10 felony counts, including bribery and official misconduct. Those charges were dismissed as part of his plea agreement.
Sentencing is set for May 23. Once the plea deal is accepted by Special Judge Stephen Bowers, Rovenstine will no longer be allowed to hold office.
Rovenstine can choose to remain as sheriff until the sentencing hearing, or he could resign before then.
Once Rovenstine’s position is vacated, Republican precinct committeemen will caucus 30 days later to select a sheriff. Any Kosciusko County Republican in good standing can file for the position.
During the expected 30-day gap, the sheriff’s duties will be taken over by former Sheriff Rocky Goshert, who is second in command at the department, said Chad Miner, county attorney.
The intimidation charge resulted from a phone conversation with Warsaw Police Officer Paul Heaton, who was investigating inmate Kevin Bronson. Heaton became suspicious that Rovenstine was allowing Bronson to meet with his friend and business partner Mark Soto, unmonitored in the jail.
When Heaton called Rovenstine about the unmonitored contact, Rovenstine responded: “I don’t want to start World War III, because everybody’s gonna lose. I guarantee ya, you think you hold everything, you don’t. … I’m the sheriff, I have investigators, too,” according to court records.
Rovenstine’s ouster will bring to an end a 26-year legacy during which either Aaron or his father served as the county’s top cop.
Rovenstine’s father, Al Rovenstine, served as sheriff beginning in 1979 and served two terms. Due to term limits, he left office, but he was elected again and served from 1991 to 1998. Voters then passed the torch to his son, Aaron, who served two terms, ending his service in 2006.
Goshert then was elected sheriff for two terms, and in 2014, Aaron Rovenstine was elected sheriff again.
The news of Rovenstine’s plea agreement stunned Kosciusko County Republican Party officials, including many who attended a GOP fish fry Wednesday evening at the county fairgrounds.
GOP Chair Mike Ragan said Wednesday that he and others attended a vigil for Rovenstine Sunday night at a local church. He said Aaron seemed upbeat at the service.
“I thought for sure he was going to be vindicated,” Ragan said. “You won’t find one person in this room who isn’t sad and disappointed at the news.”
Former county GOP Chair Jean Northenor displayed anger.
“I never once believed any part of those 10 counts of garbage,” she said. “If they were willing to drop nine counts to get one, what does that tell you about their case?”
Northenor said she grew up around the Rovenstines. She said her mom and Al’s mom were great friends.
“Aaron is the most kind, honest man I’ve ever met,” she said.
Former Republican Treasurer Lynn Howie echoed those sentiments.
“It’s just sad that a man’s reputation can be destroyed by something that should’ve been settled out of court,” she said.
Tyler Haines, an attorney and friend of the Rovenstines, said he was disappointed with the result, but he understands why a deal like that can be tempting.
Jury trials can sometimes be a roll of the dice, Haines said, and the deal they offered would have been hard to turn down.
“I can’t imagine what it’s cost (Aaron) and it’s cost his family to go through this,” he said.