The purpose of this evolving timeline is to chronicle one of the most significant corruption investigations in East Tennessee's history in a format that allows readers to track important events, dates and individuals as the probe unfolds.

The probe, which is known unofficially in law enforcement circles as "Operation Rose Thorn," has been under way since early 2001 and has been led by the U.S. Attorney's Office, the FBI, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the Tennessee Highway Patrol's Criminal Investigations Division. It became public knowledge after a massive June 11 cockfighting raid in Del Rio that yielded criminal charges against 143 people.

Most of the information contained in this timeline was drawn from hundreds of public records and interviews that have been gathered by News Sentinel staffers since 2000. Some of the information also comes from the work of the late Willard Yarbrough, a News Sentinel reporter who wrote extensively about Cocke County crime in the 1960s and 70s.

Photos: Inside the Del Rio cockfighting pit in Cocke County

Photos: See authorities raid the Del Rio cockfighting pit

Resignation letter: Cocke County Sheriff Ramsey's resignation letter


Sneak-and-peek warrants debated

Affidavit: Ex-Cocke sheriff took thousands in payoffs

Ex-chief deputy's record is 'extensive'

Cockfighting arena seized by government a year after raid on Del Rio site

Cocke judges dispute gun accusations

Prosecutor: Cocke judges allow felons to be armed

Bredesen: Donations returned

FBI has eye on Grooms

The governor and the felon

Cocke County sheriff resigns

Cocke officials: Gambling not a new problem

Cocke deputy faces indictment

Grand jury will hear from inmate

Ex-Cocke deputy asks for change of attorney

FOE revokes Del Rio charter

Details of cockfighting raid emerge

Cocke bus driver held without bond in drug case

Cocke club a common link

Officials say Cocke County's tarnished image unfair to majority of law enforcement, citizens

Officers charged



Darrell S. Hayes, 22

Cocke County Sheriff’s Department corrections officer

Has been acquitted of civil rights charges.



Patrick Allen Taylor, 39

Chief deputy of the Cocke County Sheriff's Department

Has pleaded guilty to conspiring to traffic in stolen property with his brother, Jarrod Taylor, and former Deputy Larry Joe Dodgin. He resigned shortly after his arrest; sentenced to 2 years in prison.


Christopher Randall Smith, 28

Cocke County Sheriff's Department deputy

Has resigned and pleaded guilty to deprivation of civil rights for stealing money from a drug suspect. He is serving a three-year term of federal probation.

James W. "Jimmy" Roach Jr., 29

Newport Police Department sergeant

After two trials, he was convicted of deprivation of civil rights in connection with a traffic stop of two illegal Hispanic immigrants in which cash was stolen. He was acquitted of a felony civil rights conspiracy charge. He is on administrative leave without pay; sentenced to 10 months in prison.

Patrick James Sheldon, 34

Newport Police Department sergeant

After two trials, he was acquitted of civil rights charges but convicted of being an accessory after the fact for helping Roach. He is on administrative leave without pay; sentenced to two months in prison.

John Wayne "Johnny" Black, 34

Cocke County Sheriff's Department deputy

Has been convicted of perjury and witness tampering; sentenced to two years in prison.

Derrick Lynn Cureton, 20

Cocke County Sheriff's Department jailer

Has pleaded guilty to attempted money laundering; serving a two-year prison sentence.

Larry Joe Dodgin, 26

Cocke County Sheriff's Department deputy

Has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute cocaine and possession of a firearm during a drug transaction. He resigned shortly after his arrest and is serving an 8-year term in federal prison.

Cocke County Confidential

Welcome to Cocke County.

For generations of East Tennesseans, this mountain community of 35,000 people has borne — fairly or not — the reputation as the region's capital of vice and corruption.

Local leaders have tried mightily to overcome this image, focusing instead on victories on the fronts of industrial development and tourism. But old habits die hard, and recent events show that many of the same practices that once earned Cocke County the nickname of "Little Chicago" still flourish in the hills and hollows that border the North Carolina state line.

Federal and state authorities have been targeting the county since 2001, deploying everything from undercover agents to helicopters and SWAT teams to support an investigation that has reportedly turned up a dizzying array of criminal activities: drug trafficking, chop shops, the hijacking of interstate shipments, organized gambling, prostitution, fraud, attempted money laundering, racketeering and public corruption.

The ultimate scope and targets of the probe, which is known in government circles as "Operation Rose Thorn," are still unknown. At the heart of the investigation thus far have been allegations of corruption in the Cocke County Sheriff's Department, but a major fund-raiser for Gov. Phil Bredesen named Harold Grooms has also emerged as one of Rose Thorn's targets. Longtime Sheriff D.C. Ramsey, a Republican, resigned after it was disclosed in early 2006 that he was a target of an FBI inquiry into illegal gambling operations involving video poker machines and cockfighting. Public records obtained by The News Sentinel have also revealed possible connections between members of Sheriff Ramsey's family and a host of convicted drug dealers, car thieves and alleged cockfighters who have been implicated in the probe as well as ties to businesses that have been raided by state and federal agents.

Ramsey's nephew and chief deputy, Patrick Taylor, has pleaded guilty along with his brother, Jarrod Taylor, to federal charges of conspiring to traffic in thousands of dollars worth of stolen NASCAR merchandise. Another deputy has admitted in federal court to sidelining as an armed cocaine dealer; a second officer has pleaded guilty to taking part in a scheme to smuggle drug money to Miami; a third officer has pleaded guilty to stealing money from a drug suspect during a traffic stop; and a fourth has been convicted of perjury and witness tampering. Also, one former jailer has been acquitted of charges that he beat a jail inmate.

The county's other law enforcement agency, the Newport Police Department, hasn't been immune to allegations of corruption: two sergeants have been convicted of charges stemming from the shakedown of two Hispanic men during a traffic stop in 2005.

Since the probe began, criminal charges have been filed against nearly 200 people as state and federal agents have cracked down on vice and associated crimes through a series of raids that shnut down two brothels and the Del Rio Cockfighting Pit, which has been described as one of the largest illegal gambling facilities in the Southeast United States. Search warrants have also targeted a number of taverns, homes, garages, a video amusement company, and a downtown flower shop.

This isn't the first time that Cocke County has found itself in the crosshairs of the FBI. Many of the individuals who have recently been accused of illegal activities have been in trouble before, sometimes in connection with previous allegations of misconduct leveled against law enforcement officials.

One prosecutor has said the current probe represents the "last gasps" of an outlaw tradition that began generations ago, and it appears that the first acts of the drama now unfolding in Newport and Del Rio may have begun in the 1960s, when D.C. Ramsey was a young constable elected to patrol the roads of one of East Tennessee's roughest areas.

It's hard to pin down precisely when Cocke County first earned its distinctive place in East Tennessee folklore as a haven for lawlessness. Perhaps it was in the 1920s, when Prohibition offered undreamt-of riches to farmers, hillbillies and ridge runners who were willing to risk the ire of the federal government by trafficking in moonshine. While the county hardly had a monopoly on illegal liquor production, the men who clashed with federal "revenuers" on the mountains and roads of communities like Del Rio and Cosby have become legends.

Or maybe it started during World War II, when hordes of military servicemen flowed through the area by rail and car while traveling between Asheville and Knoxville. According to some accounts, the war drew prostitutes and cash-hungry investors of the worst sort to the mountain communities of Newport and Del Rio, forever changing the area's political and economic landscape.

In any case, by the time John F. Kennedy became president, the area was famous throughout the Southeast for its selection of beer joints and willing women. The death of federal prohibition a generation earlier had barely slowed down the illegal booze trade in East Tennessee, where most counties — including Cocke — were still "dry" when it came to liquor sales. The ban on spirits meant there was a lot of cash to be made for bar owners who offered illicit moonshine or whiskey on the side, and having a few working girls on hand only raised the profit margins that much higher.

Tennessee state troopers congregate outside of a Cocke County nightspot, The Thunderbird, in early 1963. State troopers regularly raided taverns in the county during the 1960s. In one New Year's Eve operation in 1962, a team of state troopers fanned out across the county and filed charges against 32 beer joints for operating without state beer certificates

As the 1960s drew to a close, many Cocke County residents were becoming fed up with lawlessness and began taking steps to curb it. But when the first serious crackdowns occurred they were led by state and federal agencies, who entered the county in force after a series of News Sentinel articles published in the summer of 1969 triggered a series of investigations that ultimately led to the arrest of nearly a dozen lawmen including then-Constable D.C. Ramsey.

June 18: Prompted by a series of News Sentinel reports, Tennessee Gov. Buford Ellington orders a "full-scale investigation" into Cocke County, ordering the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to "let the chips fall where they may regardless of the individuals involved." The probe is focused on allegations of public corruption in the county, where dozens of unregulated beer joints have been illegally selling liquor and serving as houses of prostitution for years. Many of the alleged brothels are strung out along Asheville Highway and have mobile homes installed nearby where prostitutes can take their clients. Many of the businesses are allegedly tied to organized crime groups in Ohio and St. Louis, Mo.

June 22: The News Sentinel reports that many "teen-aged girls, mostly from overcrowded or broken homes, have been taken from Knoxville to Newport for years," mainly for prostitution. Drawing from sources such as Knox County Juvenile Court Judge Richard Douglass and the family of a 15-year-old South Knoxville girl who was allegedly lured to Newport to work at a bar, the story paints a picture of a Knoxville-Newport organized crime connection. Records reveal that many female inmates at Camp Home, a Knoxville women's prison, were "released there after their fines were paid by Newport men and then taken to Cocke County where they could 'keep all they made as prostitutes,' " according to reports. City Council ultimately closed the facility. The 15-year-old girl featured in the story was allegedly lured to Cocke County by two female neighbors to work at a tavern called the Wolfe Creek Restaurant. The bar — which is reportedly owned by Lila Mae King and Constable D.C. Ramsey — allegedly serves mixed drinks although liquor sales are illegal in the county. The girl, who is pregnant, says she earned only $3.50 over three days "as her share for drinks sold men with whom she sat" and declined to accept "dates" with them. According to the report, Ramsey "left town soon after the News Sentinel expose began. One stop was in Dayton, Ohio, where many Cocke Countians have gone in the past to find employment."

June 29: The family of the 15-year-old girl is allegedly threatened by an unidentified man at their home in South Knoxville. The man allegedly comes to their home and threatens to harm the girl if she doesn't leave with him, tells her he has "a score to settle" and says that he's carrying a pistol. The girl says she didn't recognize the man, who left in a car with Sevier county tags.

July 11: All six Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers stationed in Cocke County are suspended after an internal probe allegedly turns up evidence of misconduct.

July 21: The two women who allegedly lured the 15-year-old Knoxville girl to Newport are indicted by a Knox County grand jury on a charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. The suspects are identified as Belva King and Linda Darnell. Belva King is the daughter of Lila King, who reportedly co-owns the business where the girl was taken to work.

Aug. 9: D.C. Ramsey's partner, Constable Arlie Murr, is arrested by state troopers on a disorderly conduct charge for "operating a vehicle with a blue light on top." A blue light is the signal of an arresting officer, but the state Legislature has stripped all Cocke County constables of their arrest powers and their right to carry guns due to allegations of misconduct. Court records show that Ramsey and Murr have been involved in dismissing 39 drunk driving cases before they came to trial within an 8-month period.

Aug. 11: A 17-year-old boy who is a neighbor of the 15-year-old girl is run down by a car in Vestal that swerves to hit him as he stands in front of his grandmother's house. The boy had earlier told the girl's parents where they could find her, implicating Darnell and King. The boy's family recounts weeks of threats and assaults made against him in retaliation for providing information about the girl's whereabouts.

Aug. 21: A News Sentinel investigation shows how a pattern of dismissed criminal charges in Cocke and Jefferson counties led to allegations that police officers were extorting money from DUI suspects. A federal grand jury is convened in Greeneville to investigate the reports after two local grand juries hear evidence in the case from the TBI but decline to indict anyone, leading to allegations that the local criminal justice system has been corrupted.

The allegations include: "Traffic stops, false arrests, illegal search and seizure, beatings at the hands of officers, intimidation of witnesses, a parade of defense witnesses before grand juries, tales of bribes and even prostitution for the sake of panderer's pocketbooks ... Tales of murder and robberies, the looting of seized transport trucks, the jailing of traffic victims who woke up in hospitals after being stitched up in Newport jail only to find a person waiting to accept pay for such victims' freedom."

Sept. 4: A Cocke County grand jury issues an unusual report finding that no Cocke County residents were in any way connected to the incident involving the 15-year-old girl from Knoxville. "This girl was pregnant before she came to Cocke County, and said young female spent about two days in Cocke County, and was never molested or had sexual relations with anyone in Cocke County," the report says. "We, the grand jury, find that all of the publicity concerning this young female happened in Knox County and the ones who participated in these incidents are Knox County residents." There is no record of the grand jury ever hearing witnesses or reviewing evidence in the case.

Oct. 13: Two young South Knoxville men are indicted in connection with the Aug. 11 hit-and-run incident. Pete Moore and David Latham are charged with felony assault. Moore is the son of Ralph "Duck" Moore, a well-known stockcar racer.

Nov. 10: A jury deadlocks in the case against Darnell and King. Records for the case are incomplete, but a prosecutor's notes say that Ramsey "could have come in and exonerated these women" but didn't. The notes also make references to Ralph "Duck" Moore and others but provide no details as to how they are connected to the case. According to records, Darnell was involved in a custody dispute with her ex-husband, who alleges their children were being raised in a "vice-ridden" environment and that she had moved to an unknown address in Ohio while under indictment.

Feb. 2: A federal grand jury in Greeneville indicts constables Murr, Ramsey, Cocke County Sheriff Tom O'Dell and nine others on charges of conspiring to violate the civil rights of suspects through extortion. Four sheriff's deputies, two other constables, two Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers and a bail bondsman are also charged. The men are accused of conspiring to extort money from at least a dozen DUI suspects in return for dropping the charges against them between 1967 and 1969. The indictments are later nullified, however, because of "faulty language in the bill of particulars."

Aug. 20: The charges against Pete Moore and David Latham are dropped in Knox County Criminal Court. Records show the charges were dismissed because of "double jeopardy" concerns, although the two men haven't been brought to trial.

Aug. 27: Eleven of the 12 law enforcement figures charged in February are re-indicted by a federal grand jury in Greeneville.

Oct. 1: Ramsey, who is awaiting trial, is admitted to St. Mary's Hospital in Knoxville after suffering "a gunshot wound under mysterious circumstances," reports say. Ramsey's term as constable expired Aug. 31 and he is now working as a sheriff's deputy and dispatcher. Sheriff Kin Holt says Ramsey was "accidentally wounded when he was putting a .22 caliber pistol into the glove compartment of his car." Another source, however, says that Ramsey was shot during a fight with his girlfriend.

Feb. 9: The case against Darnell and King is dismissed in Knox County Criminal Court.

April 15: Murr and Ramsey are each sentenced to four years in prison after they are convicted by a jury in federal court in Greeneville. Ramsey is convicted of six counts of depriving citizens of their civil rights by extorting bribes. Sheriff O'Dell and two other defendants are also convicted; the rest are acquitted. The convicted lawmen are allowed to remain free on bond while appealing the verdicts. Judge Charles Neese scolds them, saying: "You have violated the same law you were sworn to uphold — and for that you must be punished." Pre-sentencing reports show that Murr had a 1945 reckless driving conviction, a 1953 conviction for possessing moonshine and the 1969 charge for using blue lights. Ramsey had a 1961 arrest in Knox County for possessing moonshine but the charge was later dismissed.

Aug. 4: A charge of felony assault with a deadly weapon against Ramsey is bound over to a Cocke County grand jury. Ramsey, who is free on bond pending appeal, is charged with pistol-whipping a diner operator in Del Rio when the man protested the confiscation of a customer's vehicle. Complete court records on this case aren't available but the charge was presumably dismissed.

June 16: The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals overturns the convictions of Ramsey, O'Dell, Murr and the other two lawmen. The court rules that numerous legal errors were made in the case, mainly in the category of jury instructions.

Aug. 18: The U.S. Department of Justice decides not to appeal the court's decision. The case isn't brought back for trial, and the convictions are wiped from the records of the five defendants.

Nov. 24: Deputy Roger Stinson, who is the younger brother of newly elected Cocke County Sheriff Bobby Stinson, shoots and kills James Stewart in a tavern. Roger Stinson tells investigators that Stewart "went for a pistol," forcing the deputy to open fire with his weapon.

Jan. 8: Deputy Roger Stinson is indicted on a charge of murder by a Cocke County grand jury for Stewart's death. According to a TBI special agent, evidence has been found that indicates the gun allegedly used by the victim had been confiscated by Sheriff Stinson months earlier and hadn't been returned to its owner. The TBI probe is also focusing on Sheriff Stinson and "two other deputies" involved in the shooting, including D.C. Ramsey.

This picture was taken at the Del Rio Cockfighting Pit in 1973. The facility was the scene of an armed robbery in 1979 and was raided twice in the 1980s. It has since emerged as the focal point of a massive state and federal probe into corruption and organized crime in Cocke County.

June 13: Roger Stinson is acquitted of murder charges by a jury in Cocke County Circuit Court. No other charges are filed in connection with the case. Ramsey later goes to work at the Newport Police Department as a patrolman and remains there until 1998.

Aug. 2: Sevierville lawyer and former FBI agent Al Schmutzer Jr. is elected district attorney general. He replaces District Attorney Henry "Dutch" Swann. Also, Ken Porter is elected Cocke County Circuit Court Judge.

Over the coming decades, District Attorney General Al Schmutzer uses a number of strategies to reign in vice crimes in Cocke County, including the use of padlock orders to force bars out of business and numerous raids by state law enforcement agents. Schmutzer targets illegal liquor, gambling, cockfighting, and prostitution. In the late 1970s, he breaks up an interstate prostitution ring that serviced and occasionally robbed customers at a truck stop that didn't even have fuel pumps and only admitted men with commercial driver's licenses. An organized crime group reportedly puts out a $20,000 contract on his life but the alleged hit man, who is from Ohio, never carries out the planned attack.

Cocke County, however, continues to maintain its rough-and-rowdy reputation. Repeated busts at bars and truck stops send a steady stream of offenders to jail but don't stop crime in the county. In December 1977, nearly 350 microwave ovens are stolen from a tractor-trailer truck and 13 people are later indicted on federal charges including Arlie Murr, Raymond E. Hawk and Harold Eugene Grooms. Murr and Grooms are acquitted and a judge dismisses the charges against Hawk. Of the original 13 people charged, only three are ultimately convicted. In 1979, seven or eight people armed with shotguns and handguns rob up to 100 people of $250,000 in cash and jewelry at the Del Rio Cockfighting Pit off Happy Hollow Road. Four people are charged with the crime, one is convicted. Charges against two other defendants are dropped and another suspect commits suicide before trial.

By the early 1980s, the crime picture across East Tennessee is changing. Many families in economically depressed areas like Cocke County turn to marijuana farming and drug smuggling, practices which soon become as entrenched as the older tradition of brewing moonshine. In one 1982 bust, for instance, more than 40,000 marijuana plants with an estimated value of $15 million are found growing off Asheville Highway. Authorities launch raid after raid into the secluded hollows that once sheltered bootleggers and destroy scores of pot patches.

District Attorney General Al Schmutzer Jr.

In 1980, authorities find three bodies in a quarry off Golf Course Road after recovering the corpse of a homicide victim near the water; two of the bodies are accident victims and the other is a second homicide victim. Two years later, state troopers finds approximately 30 stolen vehicles dumped into the water while investigating an auto theft ring. The discoveries help cement Cocke County's reputation as a place where murder and mayhem are as easy to find as a glass of beer or a jar of moonshine, which is still produced by a shrinking number of people who often see themselves as preserving a dying Appalachian tradition.

Gunfights in or around taverns and truck stops happen on a regular basis, including a bitter shootout between a former Cocke County reserve deputy and Constable Joe Bacon on Aug. 9, 1980. On that date, Bacon deputizes an impromptu posse and decides to "clean up" a number of taverns. One of the establishments his group raids is the Recreation Center on Asheville Highway, which is owned by former deputy Ray O'Dell, a staunch supporter of Sheriff Stinson and Constable George Hicks. Bacon arrests O'Dell's son, Danny Ray O'Dell, for stocking beer for resale and possession of marijuana. As Bacon's posse tries to drive the young man to the county jail, Ray O'Dell intercepts them and a gunfight erupts that leaves the former deputy wounded.

In 1983, a massive state and federal probe leads to the arrest of Sheriff Stinson by the FBI on cocaine conspiracy charges. Authorities arrest 43 other people as a result of the undercover probe, which involved more than 80 state and federal agents and also uncovered an interstate prostitution ring. Agents also recover more than $2 million in drugs, stolen vehicles and heavy equipment. Stinson's brother and former chief deputy, Roger Stinson, is already serving a prison sentence for grand theft in connection with a stolen tractor and counterfeiting.

Stinson's co-defendants include Constable George Hicks of Newport and Paul Allen, a heavy equipment operator who has recently been acquitted of murder charges stemming from a shootout with another man at a truck stop on Interstate 40. According to the federal government, Stinson offered protection to an undercover FBI agent posing as a drug dealer who told the sheriff he was planning to fly cocaine from South America to a small landing strip in Cocke County. Allen was supposed to provide storage and transportation for the cocaine once it arrived, and Hicks was enlisted to help Stinson by monitoring radio transmissions to ensure they had adequate warning of approaching law enforcement.

Cocke County Sheriff Bobby Stinson is led into federal court by an unidentified agent after his arrest for cocaine trafficking.

Stinson, who is one of several East Tennessee sheriffs arrested on drug charges in the early 1980s, is eventually convicted and receives a 7-year prison sentence. Hicks and Allen both plead guilty and receive shorter prison terms. Other sheriffs who are arrested by the FBI include Anderson County Sheriff Dennis Trotter, Roane County Sheriff Gillis Narramore, and Union County Sheriff Paul Hill.

As the fallout from Stinson's arrest is still settling, former deputy Ray O'Dell wins a hefty settlement from Constable Bacon in federal court. During the civil trial, Bacon notes that O'Dell was a deputy under Stinson and claims he was "trying to straighten up those joints." Stinson is listed as a witness for O'Dell in the suit but doesn't testify because he is incarcerated. Also, FBI tapes show that Stinson had discussed killing Bacon with Paul Allen when Bacon ran against Stinson in the 1982 Republican primary.

Raymond Hawk

Occasionally, older practices such as cockfighting still manage to make headlines in Cocke County. The Del Rio "chicken pit" that was the scene of the 1979 robbery is raided twice in the 1980s by state and local authorities. One of the operations yields misdemeanor criminal charges against 400 people, but the pit — which was reportedly bought by a man named Harvey C. Brooks in 1982 — keeps going and eventually becomes known as one of the largest such operations in the United States.

Chop-shop operators and car thieves are busted with almost numbing regularity. Among them is Raymond E. Hawk, who was cleared in the 1977 microwave oven thefts. Hawk is arrested in 1983 by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation for receiving and concealing stolen property in connection with two stolen cars. A jury later finds him guilty on two of four counts and, as a convicted felon, he loses many of his citizenship rights.

In 1987, more than 30 people in Cocke and Sevier counties are indicted on state charges of operating chop shops and car theft rings that were responsible for the theft of more than $900,000 worth of vehicles and auto parts. A key player in the undercover investigation is Tommy McClanahan, who had earlier served a three-year sentence as part of the cocaine conspiracy involving Bobby Stinson. For several months prior to the arrests, McClanahan had been secretly working with state law enforcement agents by running an undercover chop shop operation to catch other car thieves in an effort to avoid a lengthy prison term himself. Those arrested include Mike Gunter, 21, and his father, Charles "Butcher Knife" Gunter of Cosby, who is described by authorities as a notorious car thief. Mike Gunter eventually pleads guilty to 25 counts of auto theft and receives a 10-year prison term.

Harold Grooms

In 1992, Harold Grooms, who was acquitted in the 1977 microwave oven heist, is indicted by federal and state grand juries on chop-shop related offenses and later pleads guilty. He serves less than two years in federal prison and emerges from behind bars with little to his name except a 1978 Chevrolet Blazer and a mobile home, court records indicate.

In 1993, Raymond Hawk is arrested following a car chase in Cocke County. The arresting officers find stolen auto parts in his pickup truck and charge him with aggravated assault for allegedly running a roadblock that had been set up to catch him. Hawk eventually pleads guilty to several misdemeanors including theft under $500, evading arrest and possession of auto parts with an altered or removed vehicle identification number.

In the mid-1990s, Hawk begins operating a club in Newport chartered by the International Fraternal Order of Eagles, a nonprofit charitable organization headquartered in Ohio. As a state-regulated private club, the FOE Aerie #4350 is allowed to sell wine and mixed drinks although Cocke County is technically "dry." The club, however, is viewed as a potential problem by some law enforcement officials. A 1997 memo from a special agent with the State Alcoholic Beverage Commission says that Sheriff Tunney Moore "and numerous other people would like to see this club denied, due to the reputation of some of the people involved." Among the first people to join the club are: Jarrod Taylor, nephew of Newport Police Department officer D.C. Ramsey and brother of Cocke County Sheriff's Department deputy Patrick Taylor; Mickey Lovell, a businessman and former Cocke County Circuit Court Clerk; and Harold Grooms, who was released from federal prison in 1994.

As the 1990s draw to a close, Cocke County's cultural and economic makeup has clearly changed. Economic development initiatives are starting to make an impact, as are growing numbers of people moving to the community from other states. While no one can claim that crime has been eradicated from the county — auto theft rings and a high homicide rate seem endemic — the good news is that vice arrests have grown increasingly rare.

In 1998, longtime Sheriff Tunney Moore decides it's time to step down from office and a political free-for-all erupts. Eight candidates crowd the race for sheriff in the Republican primary, but former constable and 23-year Newport Police Department veteran D.C. Ramsey beats all challengers and clinches the party's nomination.

Cocke County Sheriff D.C. Ramsey

Aug. 6: D.C. Ramsey is elected Cocke County sheriff after defeating independent candidate Dan Metcalf. Ramsey, however, is dogged by allegations that he lied on his qualifying papers by claiming to have a high school diploma. He appoints his nephew, Patrick Taylor, to the position of chief deputy when he takes office.

Sept. 9: A Cocke County grand jury refuses to take action against Ramsey following a probe by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation into whether he committed perjury by claiming to have a diploma. Ramsey got a GED diploma shortly before he was sworn into office and maintains that his original diploma was stolen from his file at the Newport Police Department.

Feb. 16: Raymond Hawk's citizenship rights, which he lost after becoming a convicted felon in the mid-1980s, are restored by Circuit Court Judge Ben Hooper II after Hawk petitions that he is "a family man, a home owner, and a businessman."

August: Cocke County Law Director Phil Owens, former referee for the Cocke County Juvenile Court and a former assistant district attorney, is indicted by a federal grand jury along with four other men on a charge of conspiring to distribute cocaine.

Jan. 5: The Fraternal Order of Eagles Post #4350 in Newport applies for a state liquor license at a new location at The Shack Market & Deli in Del Rio. ABC records show that the move is due to complaints from residents near its Newport address about "traffic and noise."

The Shack is owned by Sheriff Ramsey's brother, John Dale Ramsey, who becomes the aerie's president and is listed as the person responsible for operating the club in the absence of its new manager, Hollis Stinson. John Ramsey, who is an associate and occasional business partner of former Cocke County court clerk Mickey Lovell, is to be paid $1,000 a month by the club as part of a lease agreement. Former aerie president and manager Raymond Hawk remains on the membership roster.

Feb. 3: Sheriff Ramsey joins the FOE post in Del Rio along with 23 other people including nationally recognized cockfighting enthusiast Donald H. Poteat of Morganton, N.C., and Michael Maynard of Hot Springs, N.C. The club's membership roster eventually grows to include more than 200 people, including several public officials as well as law enforcement officers from both the sheriff's department and the Newport Police Department.

Feb. 9: Robert C. Keeton of Walland and Scott S. Walker of Sevier County fly 300 pounds of marijuana in separate planes from Port Isabel, Texas to Booneville, Miss. The shipment is loaded onto a truck and Walker drives it to a building Keeton owns in Gatlinburg as Keeton flies home. The men then drive the marijuana to Hilltop Auto Sales in Newport and allegedly deliver it to Harold Grooms, who owns the property the car lot sits on. Grooms allegedly pays the men $75,000 for the shipment.

Hilltop Auto Sales

Feb. 20: Scott Walker flies again to Texas for another load of drugs and meets with Keeton. They load another 300 pounds of marijuana into Walker's Piper Cherokee 180 and Walker leaves alone to fly back to Tennessee but runs into trouble during a fuel stop in Pineville, La. The plane is inspected by U.S. Customs investigators who seize the drugs and Walker agrees to cooperate with authorities. Walker agrees to contact Keeton, tell him that he's having mechanical problems and ask him to wire him $600 money to rent a car.

Feb. 22: Walker drives the marijuana to Gatlinburg, but Keeton becomes suspicious and pats Walker down, finding a recorder. Keeton is arrested, taken to the Blount County jail and released the next day. The Blount County facility houses federal prisoners under a contract with the U.S. Marshals Service and is the primary holding facility for federal inmates in the Middle East Tennessee region.

The Shack Market & Deli on Asheville Highway in Del Rio. The Fraternal Order of Eagles aerie #4350 is attached to the building on the right.

Feb. 23: Former court clerk Mickey Lovell is observed by a TBI agent on Interstate 40 in Wilson County driving a pickup truck loaded with 11 video machines he'd just bought at an auction in Nashville for $3,899.50 with the intent to "change them into coin-operated amusements," court records show. The agent who spots Lovell's truck is Bob Denney, TBI Special Agent in Charge of criminal investigations for the agency's Upper East Region, and Lovell is followed to his home in Cocke County.

Feb. 25: TBI agents execute a search warrant at Mickey Lovell's home in an effort to seize illegal gambling devices and confiscate the 11 video machines. None of the machines, however, are operable and they don't contain video gambling cards. The devices are "transported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation evidence warehouse with Lovell's assistance," according to court documents.

March 7: Robert Keeton and Scott Walker are indicted by a federal grand jury on a charge of conspiracy to possess and distribute marijuana.

March 23: Ramsey's nephew and chief deputy, Patrick Taylor, joins the Eagles club.

March 30: Law Director Owens is acquitted on federal cocaine conspiracy charges. The four men who were charged with Owens had already pleaded guilty. Owens later tells the News-Sentinel that he never sold cocaine but occasionally used the drug. "I've got nothing to hide," Owens says. "Sure, I've used cocaine from time to time. The first person I ever used cocaine with was the son of a federal judge. I looked at it sort of like some people would look at a bottle of champagne." Owens eventually goes into private practice.

April 24: Mickey Lovell reaches an agreement with DA Schmutzer that allows him to escape criminal prosecution "in light of the fact that the machines were inoperable because of the lack of a video gambling card, which raises a question of whether they are illegal gambling devices under the law." Under the terms of the agreement, which is approved by Circuit Court Judge Ben Hooper II, Lovell isn't charged with a crime but the machines are forfeited to the government "as illegal contraband."

Oct. 30: Robert Keeton pleads guilty and is allowed to remain free on bond. He won't be sentenced for his role in the marijuana-smuggling conspiracy for more than three years.

Nov. 28: Scott Walker pleads guilty under seal and is allowed to remain free on bond. It will be nearly 16 months before he is sentenced. According to court records filed under seal, "Keeton conspired, confederated and agreed with Scott Walker and Harold Grooms and others to possess with intent to distribute marijuana." While on bond, he finds himself embroiled in a controversy in Knox County after entering into an agreement with Knox County Sheriff Tim Hutchison and the sheriff's legal advisor, Mike Ruble, to use Walker's airstrip on Mascot Road for the agency's fleet of helicopters. The contract isn't approved by Knox County Commission and is uncovered by attorney Herbert S. Moncier, who is representing Commissioner Wanda Moody in a series of lawsuits against the sheriff. Hutchison maintains he didn't know about Walker's legal problems when he entered into the agreement, which paid Walker's aviation company $2,700 per month for use of the airstrip. The agreement is later terminated.

Dec. 20: Robert Keeton is booked into the Blount County jail. Federal court records show that U.S. District Judge James Jarvis in Knoxville has issued a warrant for his arrest to show cause why his bond shouldn't be revoked; Keeton is released the next day.

Dec. 29: Mickey Lovell and John Dale Ramsey sell a parcel of property at 144 E. Broadway in Newport for $60,000. Lovell had at one time operated an amusement company from the property, according to records.

Jan. 26: Sydney Inc., a corporation, applies though the state Alcoholic Beverage Commission for a liquor license for West End Package Store on West Broadway in Newport. The corporation's president, Patricia Taylor, is the wife of Sheriff Ramsey's nephew and chief deputy, Patrick Taylor. Records show the store is being purchased with $25,000 of Patricia Taylor's money along with a $350,000 loan from National Bank of Tennessee in Newport. Patricia Taylor, who is director of the Cocke County Emergency Communication District E-911, complies with state rules and resigns from her post as a government official when the license is granted. The corporation's secretary is Jarrod Taylor, Patrick Taylor's brother, who is also one of the men listed as being responsible for the sale of alcoholic beverages at the FOE Aerie #4350 at The Shack in Del Rio. Jarrod Taylor is also employed by Newport Games in Newport, a video amusement company, according to records.

Chief Deputy Patrick Taylor of the Cocke County Sheriff's Department, nephew of Sheriff Ramsey.

Feb. 12: An employee liquor license for West End is issued to Chief Deputy Taylor. A liquor license is also granted to sheriff's spokesman Michael McCarter but isn't renewed when it expires a year later, records indicate. Other licenses are eventually granted for other members of the sheriff's family and other sheriff's department employees.

April 18: An employee liquor license for West End is issued to Mickey Lovell, who once owned the store. The permit isn't renewed at the end of the year.

June: Assistant Newport Police Chief Clay Webb takes over the department following the retirement of longtime chief Buddy Don Ramsey.

June 16: Brett Allen Materna goes into the Middle Creek Bar in Cosby with a shotgun and kills the bar's operators, Ray Denton Jr., 55, and his 54-year-old wife, Bernice Denton, along with a patron, Eddie Sutton Jr., 55, of Sevierville. Materna, who is charged with three counts of murder, was reportedly upset about his losses to a video poker machine inside the tavern.

Gov. Bredesen during his campaign in 2002

Aug. 7: Harold Grooms and Diana Grooms donate two $2,500 gifts each to the election campaign of former Nashville Mayor Phil Bredesen, who is running as the Democratic candidate for governor of Tennessee. The amount is the maximum allowable by law, with each gift earmarked for either the primary or general election campaigns. Their son, Jason Grooms, had made identical donations to Bredesen two months earlier. Harold and Jason Grooms eventually emerge as two of Bredesen's most active local volunteers.

Sept. 11: Circuit Court Judge Ben Hooper II turns down a request by 4th District Attorney General Al Schmutzer Jr. to padlock the Middle Creek Bar. Hooper does, however, rule that the bar is a public nuisance and issues an injunction against its owner.

October 17-27: State troopers raid seven Cocke County taverns and seize video poker machines, bulk quantities of liquor and a small amount of illegal drugs. Selling liquor in bars is illegal in Cocke County, and seven people are arrested on charges ranging from possession of gambling devices to storage of liquor for resale. All seven suspects eventually plead guilty to various offenses.

Oct. 30: Materna, who has been held in the Jefferson County Jail for security reasons since shortly after his arrest, is found dead in his cell. Authorities say he hanged himself.

Dec. 5: A Cocke County grand jury declines to indict Newport Police Chief Clay Webb, his son Bart T. Webb, and Newport Police Capt. Terry Eugene Stewart in connection with the alleged theft of a pickup truck. The TBI investigated the incident.

Dec. 13: Judge Hooper abolishes the Cocke County Jail's trusty program after learning that "70 percent of our courthouse trustys tested positive for marijuana and opiates." The program allowed inmates with good disciplinary records to work outside the facility.

Jan. 11: A federal lawsuit filed by former jail administrator Robert Sheldon against Sheriff Ramsey, Taylor and McCarter is dismissed. Sheldon had contended he was fired "based upon their desire to have a less qualified, less experienced and less competent individual working as jail administrator." Sheldon said that unqualified prisoners were allowed to serve as trustys, "thus having full access to the entire (jail) and, possibly, introducing said contraband including illegal drugs." He also said a different administrator might have taken steps "to prohibit inmates, including said unqualified trustys, from taking a female jailer's car keys and going to a local bar in Cocke County while such inmates should rightfully be ... serving their proper criminal sentence." Sheldon also alleged that inmates' files — including medical records — had been taken from the jail along with incident reports detailing physical abuse of inmates. U.S. District Judge Thomas Hull, however, rules that Sheldon was an "exempt, at-will employee" not covered by civil service regulations.

Jan. 25-26: Four Cocke County jail inmates are released by Chief Deputy Taylor and escorted to take part in a local prize-fighting match with a $1,000 cash prize. Taylor claims that Judge Hooper approved of the trips as part of a reward program for passing drug screens but the judge denies giving permission. Michael McCarter, who is both jail administrator and the sheriff's spokesman, says the plea agreement of one inmate — Shawn Meeks — allows him to take part in "prize fighting." Schmutzer, however, says the plea agreement contains no such provision.

Feb. 1: McCarter apologizes on behalf of the department and explains a new policy that will only allow prisoner releases with a judge's order.

Feb. 21: Authorities destroy 25 video poker or video slot machines, 84 tip boards, a quantity of drugs, 54 bottles of liquor and 11 quarts of moonshine that were seized from Cocke County taverns the previous October.

Feb. 22: Cocke County jail inmate Joel Brandon Ellison is released into the custody of the Newport Police Department to wash cars as part of the trusty program, which was supposedly abolished. Ellison, a convicted car thief with a long history of petty crime, leaves the police department and borrows a Chevrolet Blazer from a friend, convicted cocaine dealer Jeremy Scott Jones. Ellison and Misty Sams, a young woman from Parrottsville, are seriously injured several hours later in a wreck on Asheville Highway. The sheriff's department charges Ellison with escape.

Feb. 26: Judge Hooper orders McCarter to appear on a contempt of court charge for allegedly defying the judge's order to abolish the trusty program.

March 22: Assistant U.S. Attorney Hugh Ward files a motion under seal in federal court in Knoxville asking that Scott Walker be given a lighter sentence in light of his cooperation, which led to the arrest of Robert Keeton "and additional information has led to investigations of several other individuals and will likely result in additional prosecutions." Walker would normally face a 46- to 57-month prison sentence, but Ward recommends a 30-month prison term.

March 29: Scott Walker is sentenced to 30 months in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release.

Michael McCarter, Cocke County Jail administrator and sheriff's department spokesman.

May: Eagles club member Michael Maynard and his wife, Alma, buy the Del Rio Cockfighting Pit from Harvey Brooks for $60,000.

May 31: McCarter is cleared of the contempt of court charges after an appointed judge rules that Hooper's order didn't apply to Ellison because he was serving a 14-year state prison term and therefore wasn't under the local court's jurisdiction. McCarter is represented by former County Attorney Phil Owens.

Misty Sams' father files a lawsuit against city and county officials alleging they were negligent in allowing Ellison to "walk away" from custody on Feb. 22 and then continued to allow him to leave the jail on passes through the end of April. A letter that Ellison wrote to Sams from the jail reads: "You know, since they charged me for escape, they have given me three passes and let dad get me on weekends. Crazy, isn't it!"

June 13: Cocke County deputy John Wayne "Johnny" Black wrecks his new Suzuki GSX-R1000 motorcycle, which he had recently purchased from Honda Suzuki of Alcoa, near Park Street in Newport. Black, an Eagles club member who joined the Del Rio club on the same day as Chief Deputy Taylor, had planned to go riding with two other off-duty officers, Sgt. Jonathan Morgan and reserve deputy Derrick Webb. Morgan is the department's drug officer and a former member of the Fourth Judicial District Drug Task Force, where he worked extensively with state and federal authorities. Black crashes his Suzuki into Morgan's bike while Morgan is stopped at an intersection, injuring both officers. The Newport Police Department officer who investigates the wreck is James Roach Jr., an Eagles club member who joined the Del Rio lodge on the same day as Sheriff Ramsey. Roach indicates in his report that Black overcorrected and "lost control as he came up to" a stop sign before crashing into Morgan's bike. Webb and Morgan later agree to lie on Black's behalf by claiming to have not seen what led up to the accident although they had witnessed Black performing a wheelie. Black eventually files a civil lawsuit against the Alcoa dealership, Suzuki Motor Corporation and American Suzuki Motor Corporation in an effort to collect several hundred thousand dollars in damages.

July 16: A Cocke County grand jury declines to indict Ellison on a charge of escape and Sams of facilitating an escape.

Aug. 1: D.C. Ramsey, who is running unopposed in the county's general election, is re-elected sheriff. In the primary races for governor, Republican candidates draw about 4,500 votes while Democrats pull in only 1,300 votes. In the ensuing weeks, both Bredesen and Republican candidate Van Hilleary make stops in Cocke County, and Bredesen attends at least one campaign event at Harold Grooms' house.

Nov. 5: Bredesen is elected governor of Tennessee. Bredesen also becomes the first Democratic candidate to win Cocke County since 1990, having received 4,219 votes compared to Van Hilleary's 4,114. The victory was not an easy one for Bredesen, whose campaign set a political spending record for Tennessee: more than $10 million, including $3 million from the wealthy candidate's own pocket. Bredesen's surprising strength in traditionally Republican East Tennessee left him 50,417 votes ahead of Hilleary in the final count — 837,280 to 786,863.

Dec. 20: An FBI informant infiltrates the 440 Cockfight Pit on Camber Drive. In addition to cockfights and illegal betting on the matches, the informant sees a high-stakes card game and a concession stand that employs several women selling beer. Informants and undercover FBI agents visit the pit numerous times through March 2004, racking up evidence of a massive gambling operation where up to $3 million was reportedly wagered in a single day. On at least one occasion, men with semiautomatic weapons are seen guarding the pit.

Jan. 18: Phil Bredesen is sworn in as the 48th governor of Tennessee.

Feb. 25: Steve Huff of Newport and another man, Paul Nease, are indicted by a federal grand jury in Greeneville along with two other men on marijuana conspiracy charges. Huff and his wife, Debra Huff, are gamecock breeders and both of them allegedly work at the 440 Cockfight Pit.

March 15: An FBI informant visits the Del Rio Cockfighting Pit off Happy Hollow Road and witnesses nearly 200 fights. The informant says that between $2,000 and $20,000 was gambled on each fight. Informants and undercover FBI agents visit the pit numerous times over the next 14 months. On two occasions, they identify Donald Poteat as the pit's operator.

June 13: In the marijuana case against Robert Keeton and Scott Walker, an "exhibit/witness list" is filed under seal in federal court in Knoxville although the two men pleaded guilty nearly two years earlier.

June 20: Judge Jarvis agrees to reduce Scott Walker's sentence from 30 months to 21 months, at the request of federal prosecutors.

July 1: Matthew Kisber, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, sends a letter to then-state Personnel Commissioner Randy Camp asking that Harold Grooms' son, Jason Grooms, be hired at a salary of $3,000 per month as an executive service employee in the Governor's Three Star Program, an economic development effort. Kisber asks that Grooms be hired despite a hiring freeze caused by state budget problems. In his resume, Grooms says that he was at one time chairman of both the Cocke County Committee for Bredesen for Governor and the "New Democratic Party of Cocke County." He has a bachelor's degree in biology, has been president and owner of a whitewater rafting company in Cocke County, and was once the director of sales and marketing at Four Star Auto Sales, his resume states. He has also served on the Tennessee Tourism Roundtable, the Cocke County Chamber of Commerce, and the Cocke County Tourism Council. Grooms is hired 15 days later to oversee the Three Star Program in 18 upper East Tennessee counties.

Four Star Auto Sales

Oct. 1: In a secret hearing held before Judge Jarvis in Knoxville, Keeton argues for a lighter sentence in light of his cooperation with authorities, which is expected to lead to indictments against several other people. His attorney, Doug Trant, tells Jarvis that Keeton has placed himself and his family in great danger and there was "substantial fear of reprisals from Harold Grooms or his associates if Mr. Keeton testified in the Grand Jury, so great a fear that all the parties of the court created a kind of subterfuge jailing overnight of Mr. Keeton to give the appearance he hadn't cooperated ... They (federal prosecutors) got a ton of information that could be verified by credit card receipts, flight plans, and other records that what he (Keeton) was doing he did for Mr. Grooms." One day, Keeton had accidentally left his cell phone in the office of defense attorney Bob Ritchie, who answered it when it rang, according to a transcript of the hearing. The caller was a relative of Grooms who was "trying to find out if he was going to testify before the grand jury," and the bogus jailing was developed so Keeton could go back to Grooms and say: "I wouldn't tell them anything and they put me in jail over it." A pre-trial services worker then explains how unusual Keeton's incarceration was. "That was the first time that I've ever known of anybody willingly going to jail to throw off the scent that they had testified against somebody," she says. "It wasn't really a proper thing to do, to petition the court with false information."

Dustin Lee White

Oct. 4: Dustin Lee White, 18, of Newport, is stopped by Cocke County Sheriff's Department deputy Larry Joe Dodgin for a traffic violation while driving a 2001 Chevrolet Suburban. The Suburban's license tag is reportedly registered to a Toyota Tacoma. Several officers respond to the traffic stop and allegedly find a quarter-ounce of "white rock believed to be cocaine," several blue pills and a bag of marijuana in the vehicle. The officers also confiscate $4,815 in cash from the truck. Deputies Dodgin and Christopher Smith, however, find more cash after the initial search and split the money between themselves later that night. Dodgin signs several warrants charging White with drug possession, reckless driving and having false registration on the vehicle. Several days later, Sgt. Jonathan Morgan gives the FBI a videotape of the traffic stop that shows Dodgin and Smith taking the money.

Jan. 6: Judge Jarvis further reduces Scott Walker's sentence to time served and releases him from custody.

Jan. 13: Maurice Shults, a Newport police detective and narcotics investigator, is appointed Newport police chief. He replaces Clay Webb, who died Oct. 1 from a heart attack.

Feb 11: A federal search warrant is executed at H-1 Auto Parts on Willis Road in Newport. The business is operated by Raymond Hawk, who ran the Fraternal Order of Eagles Post #4350 before it moved to the Del Rio location in 2000.

Feb. 18: Robert Keeton is sentenced to 24 months in prison to be followed by 3 years of supervised release. He is booked into the Blount County jail and remains there as a federal "safe housing" prisoner until he is released into the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service April 5.

Feb 20: Huff and Nease are acquitted of federal drug conspiracy charges after a jury trial in Greeneville. The men successfully argue that what appeared to be marijuana deals were actually gamecock transactions. Huff's wife, Debra Huff, had testified in detail about the 440 and Del Rio cockfighting operations and says she ran the concession stand at the 440 pit for two years. The other defendants in the case entered guilty pleas before trial.

April 27: State Rep. Ronnie Davis of Newport, who served in the Legislature for 18 years, is sentenced to more than two years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy, extortion and illegal possession of drugs with the intent to distribute. His alleged accomplice and "personal companion," a former state employee named Diana Dorothy Burton, has already pleaded guilty. The pair was accused of fraud and money laundering in a scheme involving fake diplomatic passports. The drug charge was filed after Burton tried to commit suicide with narcotic pain pills she was given by Davis, who allegedly is addicted to them.

June: Sheriff's Deputy Larry Joe Dodgin, who has been working for the department since 1999, is introduced to an undercover FBI agent who is supposedly working for a criminal organization that is involved in drug trafficking, money laundering and stolen property. Dodgin has told other law enforcement officers that he uses drugs and is in regular contact with Jeremy Jones, a known cocaine dealer. During his subsequent dealings with the purported "organization," Dodgin allegedly goes on to commit a slew of crimes. At one point, he is paid $400 by the agent to act as a guard for what he believes is a transfer of drug money in a grocery store parking lot in Newport and, on another occasion, gives crack cocaine to a person secretly working with the FBI. After the crack cocaine delivery, Dodgin and the informant drive to Atlanta to smuggle $80,000 in cash that Dodgin thinks is drug money. The deputy is paid $1,200 for the trip. Over the course of the summer, Dodgin is befriended by Trooper Kevin Kimbrough of the Tennessee Highway Patrol, who is assigned to Cocke County. Kimbrough, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, is working secretly for the FBI at the request of the THP's Criminal Investigations Division. Those agencies, along with the TBI, have been working together since 2001 as part of a joint probe into public corruption in the county. The operation is known unofficially in government circles as "Rose Thorn."

July 29: Deputy Dodgin and Derrick Lynn Cureton, a newly hired Cocke County jailer, travel to Atlanta, Ga. and Miami, Fla. with an unidentified third person in order to smuggle $80,000 in cash and $250,000 in fake bonds. The FBI makes tapes of the men discussing how they can guard future shipments and involve other deputies in the scheme.

Cocke County Sheriff's Department Deputy Larry Joe Dodgin

Cocke County jailer Derrick Lynn Cureton

Aug. 4: All charges against Dustin Lee White are dropped in Cocke County General Sessions Court. The cases are dismissed because Dodgin didn't appear in court to prosecute them, according to court records.

Aug. 31: Gov. Bredesen attends a fundraiser hosted by Harold Grooms in Newport that raises at least $33,500 for his re-election campaign. A $500 donation is made in the name of H-1 Auto Parts, and two $2,500 gifts are made by a man named Kenneth Frazier. Court records indicate that a Kenneth Frazier is the owner of the 440 Cockfight Pit on Camber Drive, but records are unclear as to whether it's the same Kenneth Frazier or a close relative with the same name. Harold Grooms gives two $2,500 gifts, Diana Grooms gives $1,000 and Jason Grooms gives $1,500 (he had already donated $1,000 on Aug. 2).

Nov. 4: Newport residents vote to legalize liquor-by-the-drink in the city limits. City officials had worked behind the scenes for passage of the measure, pointing out that liquor is already available in the city from three liquor stores and a number of private clubs that are licensed to sell spirits. Liquor sales remain illegal in the county.

Dec. 16: Dec. 16: Agents from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the Tennessee Highway Patrol raid two popular Cocke County nightspots. Four prostitutes who solicited customers inside the bars and then escorted them to adjacent trailers to conduct business are arrested. The businesses targeted are The Little Brown House in Del Rio, which is owned by Danny Ray O'Dell, and Brenda's Lounge near Newport, which is operated by Brenda W. Carrell. O'Dell is the son of former deputy Ray O'Dell, who was shot by Constable Joe Bacon in 1980.

At the The Little Brown House, agents confiscate more than $1,100 in cash; notebooks; a datebook; blank money orders; four boxes of condoms; and a number of "Post It notes," records show.

Dec. 20: The four prostitutes arrested at The Little Brown House and Brenda's Lounge plead guilty in Cocke County General Sessions Court and are fined $50 each.

TBI Special Agent Bob Denney, right, helps four prostitutes out of a van and into the Tennessee Highway Patrol post in Newport immediately following a pair of Dec. 16 undercover operations at two popular Cocke County nightspots.

Jan. 10: The owners of The Little Brown House and Brenda's Lounge reach an agreement with Schmutzer's office. The taverns are to be padlocked for 60 days and the owners agree to never again operate a business where prostitution is promoted or allowed.

Jan. 18: FBI agent Lane Rushing applies to U.S. Magistrate Judge Dennis H. Inman in Greeneville to hide a mobile tracking device on a green Plymouth Grand Voyager minivan operated by Jarrod Taylor, who is the brother of sheriff's department Chief Deputy Patrick Taylor. Agents hope to uncover evidence of an illegal gambling enterprise that revolves around video poker machines in bars, convenience stores and restaurants as well as cockfighting. Jarrod Taylor is an employee of Newport Games, which allegedly has "a relationship" with the businesses where the machines are operating, according to Rushing's affidavit. (Read the affadavit by FBI Special Agent Lane Rushing

"One aspect of (the) investigation involves illegal gambling businesses, to include cockfights and illegal gambling machines in bars and payments to local law enforcement officers, to include Cocke County Sheriff D.C. Ramsey and his nephew ... Chief Deputy Pat Taylor, to further the illegal gambling," Rushing writes. "Gambling machines, commonly known as video poker machines, have long been reported to be in operation throughout Cocke County. According to cooperating witnesses and confidential informants, the machines are located in bars, restaurants, convenience markets and other retail establishments."

Rushing says that Jarrod Taylor has been under surveillance for several weeks and has made numerous trips to a variety of businesses that reportedly operate gambling machines. The trips are allegedly made "to pick up money from the gambling machines as well as pay the establishment operators their share of the illegal gambling proceeds," Rushing says. During one trip, Taylor was allegedly seen going to a convenience store on the North Carolina state line and an adjoining bar that are "owned and operated by the same person who owns a cockfighting pit in located in Del Rio which is also involved in illegal gambling."

Inman approves Rushing's request for a period of 60 days, and the records pertaining to the tracking device are sealed due to concerns about jeopardizing the probe. "The subjects, because they are law enforcement officers or have connections to law enforcement officers, are familiar with investigative techniques, to include vehicular surveillance, and have adopted counter-measures to defeat such surveillance," Rushing writes.

Jan. 20: FBI agents install a mobile tracking device on the minivan driven by Jarrod Taylor.

Feb. 3: Deputy Larry Joe Dodgin, who has by now made several out-of-state trips to smuggle what he thinks is drug money, has a conversation with the undercover FBI agent. The agent, who has been discussing various types of criminal activity with Dodgin since January, has already told Dodgin that his "organization" steals interstate shipments and other goods and needs a place to temporarily store truck trailers loaded with stolen property. During this meeting, the agent explains how his organization steals merchandise in Chicago with the assistance of corrupt law enforcement officers and Dodgin says that he might be able to get "his chief" — Patrick Taylor — to help out. Dodgin later arranges for a tractor-trailer containing purportedly stolen goods to be temporarily stored in a Newport restaurant's parking lot.

Feb. 15: Michael and Alma Maynard sell the Del Rio Cockfighting Pit to fellow Eagles club member Donald Poteat and his wife, Donna, for $100,000.

March 17: O'Dell, 47, and Carrell, 52, are arrested by TBI agents after they are indicted by a Cocke County grand jury on charges of promoting prostitution, a felony.

March 21: Judge Inman authorizes the FBI to continue tracking the mini-van used by Jarrod Taylor for another 60 days.

March 30: Dodgin meets with the undercover FBI agent and another man in Newport. While discussing other criminal activity, tells the agent he has a friend who deals in large quantities of drugs. Dodgin's friend is later identified as Jeremy Jones, 26, who had loaned his car to inmate Joel Ellison in 2002. In the ensuing weeks, Dodgin and Jones allegedly negotiate a large cocaine deal with undercover FBI agents.

April 18: O'Dell and Carrell enter guilty pleas to misdemeanor prostitution charges and receive probation.

April 26: Deputy Dodgin meets with the undercover FBI agent and they drive to Asheville, N.C. for lunch. Dodgin asks the agent if his organization will sell multi-kilogram amounts of cocaine to Jeremy Jones. Dodgin tells the agent that he had once told Jones to move a supply of cocaine to another location to avoid a possible search warrant. Dodgin also tells the agent that Patrick Taylor wants to buy some of the stolen goods hidden in the truck trailers, which Dodgin has been paid to protect. The property includes NASCAR souvenir clothing as well as football hats and shirts, and Dodgin says that Taylor plans to sell the goods from a portable vending stand he owns. Dodgin later meets with Taylor at the Sheriff's Department in downtown Newport, and Dodgin then calls the FBI agent to tell him that Taylor is willing to pay up to $25,000 for stolen property.

April 28: As part of an undercover operation aimed at illegal liquor sales at taverns in Cocke County, agents from the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission visit The Blue Room on West Highway 25/70. The agents are able to purchase mixed drinks although the business has no liquor license. In their written report, the agents also recount talking to an unidentified man who "said he worked in the county as a constable. He said that the local law enforcement knows what goes on and that they do not bother us here or anywhere else."

May 4: Harold Grooms goes to Nashville and meets with Gov. Bredesen and Robert "Mack" Cooper, who is Bredesen's top lobbyist but is later demoted due to a sexual harassment scandal and leaves state government. The men reportedly discuss policy issues in upper East Tennessee.

May 10: FBI agents count and mark NASCAR clothing which is to be sold to Patrick Taylor by the undercover agent through Dodgin. The items include tank tops, jackets, T-shirts, hats, sweat shirts, baseball jerseys and polo shirts that cost about $9,000. Dodgin later tells the agent that Taylor wants to pay "ten cents on the dollar, not twenty-five cents on the dollar" for the goods.

May 17: Dodgin meets the undercover agent in the parking lot of the Food City in Newport. Dodgin, who is still on duty, has changed into a white t-shirt but is still wearing his uniform pants. The agent shows Dodgin the merchandise, which is in the rear compartment of the agent's vehicle, and then gives Dodgin the keys. Dodgin drives the agent's vehicle up Cosby Highway because the plan initially calls for him to meet Patrick Taylor at Reel Cinemas, but Taylor changes the meeting location to a church at the intersection of Morrell Springs Road and Heritage Boulevard. When Dodgin arrives, he meets with Patrick and Jarrod Taylor. Dodgin and Jarrod Taylor then unload the boxes from the agent's vehicle into Jarrod Taylor's minivan. Using the mobile tracking device secretly installed on the minivan in January, agents are able to track the vehicle as it drives to Patrick Taylor's house after the transaction. Dodgin meets the agent again at Food City and hands him a stack of twenty-five $100 bills, which they split between them. Dodgin tells the agent that Taylor appeared to be nervous and wouldn't come near the agent's vehicle. About 9 p.m. that evening, Patrick Taylor calls Dodgin to complain that the stolen merchandise was only worth about $9,100.

May 18: Dodgin calls the undercover agent to discuss selling more of the stolen apparel to Taylor and another of Dodgin's associates. Dodgin says that Taylor wants an additional two boxes of t-shirts because he feels he was shortchanged on the previous shipment.

May 19: Judge Inman authorizes the FBI to continue tracking the mini-van used by Jarrod Taylor for another 60 days.

June 2: Dodgin and Jones allegedly try to buy 3 kilograms of cocaine from an FBI agent but the deal falls through because the person who was supposed to fund the deal didn't give Jones the money.

June 11: More than 100 federal and state agents backed by snipers and helicopters launch a dramatic mid-afternoon raid on the Del Rio Cockfighting Pit to execute a federal search warrant as part of the illegal gambling investigation targeting Sheriff Ramsey, Chief Deputy Taylor and others. They seize more than $40,000 in cash, issue criminal citations to 143 people and euthanize 300-plus roosters. The "chicken pit" itself is housed inside a 5,000-square foot, two-story metal building with bleacher seating for up to 500 people. It also contains a restaurant and gift shop that sells T-shirts, caps, belt buckles and other types of memorabilia. In addition to the main structure, the compound includes nearly 100 outbuildings and a guard shack.

The Del Rio facility is described by officials as the United States' largest and oldest illegal cockfighting pit, and the raid soon comes to be known as "Black Saturday" in the nation's cockfighting subculture.

Federal and state agents disembark from helicopters during a June 11 raid at the Del Rio Cockfighting Pit that yielded criminal charges against 143 people. FBI agents executed a federal search warrant during the raid and confiscated approximately $40,000 in cash.

A cockfighting suspect is searched by a Tennessee Highway Patrol trooper while an FBI SWAT team member looks on during the raid.

June 14: U.S. Rep. Bill Jenkins, R-Rogersville, criticizes the Del Rio raid as a waste of federal resources. He says the government should focus on terrorism and fighting methamphetamine instead of "diverting FBI agents" to investigate cockfighting.

June 15: The FBI and U.S. Forest Service execute a federal search warrant at the home of Newport Police Department Capt. Theodore Williams. Williams, a 34-year veteran of the department whose personnel file reflects a trouble-free career, is the father of Thomas Grant Williams, 29, of Newport. Thomas Williams has a lengthy history of auto-theft related offenses and is an associate of Raymond Hawk.

June 16: Schmutzer says he is "surprised and disappointed" by Rep. Jenkins' remarks and points out that the June 11 raid was part of a larger probe into illegal gambling.

June 17: Dodgin is arrested for allegedly trying to buy $60,000 worth of cocaine from an undercover FBI agent in Dandridge. His alleged accomplice, Jones, is also arrested. (Read the story "Deputy put in jail pending drug trial")

In addition to the actions against Dodgin and Jones, the U.S. Department of Justice moves in federal court to seize the Del Rio and 440 cockfighting pits. Federal prosecutors identify Donald and Donna Poteat as the owners of the Del Rio pit and Kenneth and Vera Frazier of Newport as the owners of the 440 pit. George Hicks, convicted felon and onetime accomplice of former Sheriff Bobby Stinson, is described as the 440 pit's operator; Steve Huff is described as a referee; Earnest "Junior" Arwood Jr. allegedly worked the door; and a person identified as Scottie Hicks allegedly used a computer to "keep track of the winners, losers and subsequent payoffs." (Read the story " Records reveal Del Rio details")

(See the complaints filed in federal court: Document 1, Document 2)

June 27: Twenty-nine cockfighting suspects from the Del Rio raid appear in Cocke County General Sessions Court before Judge John Bell. Fourteen defendants plead guilty, seven plead no contest and eight say they plan to fight the charges. (Read the story " Personal court appearances required")

The first wave of 143 people charged in the Del Rio cockfighting raid are sworn in June 27 in Cocke County General Sessions Court.

June 28: John Goodwin, an official from the Humane Society of the United States, tells the News Sentinel that he made four phone calls to the Cocke County Sheriff's Department in January to report the activities at the 440 cockfighting pit. He says that he spoke with Chief Deputy Taylor twice and Sheriff Ramsey was on the phone during one of the conversations.

June 30: Agents from the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission visit several Cocke County taverns as part of an ongoing undercover probe into illegal liquor sales. At Slammer's, a tavern on West Highway 25/70, the female bartender refuses to sell them liquor "due to the recent activity in Cocke County with the federal authorities," reports one agent. At Gary's Bar in Newport, agents see a woman who appears to be consuming a mixed drink. When the agents ask the bartender about it, they see a man walk in and whisper something to the establishment's owner, Gary D. Walker, 53, who is married to Cocke County Sheriff's Department Sgt. Julie Walker. "The patron began speaking loudly about they should leave the drunks alone and go after those cockfights," writes ABC Agent James Cobble in his report on the incident. "The owner began talking to the bartender and he said to be careful if you do not know the person." Public records show that Gary Walker holds the business license to the establishment but the property is owned by John Dale Ramsey and Mickey Lovell.

July 1: In an unusual move, Dodgin waives his right to a grand jury review of the charges against him and pleads guilty in federal court to cocaine and gun charges. He agrees to cooperate with federal authorities who are investigating a wide range of criminal activity in Cocke County. An assistant U.S. attorney says the probe has been going on at least four years and includes drug trafficking, organized gambling, chop shop operations, the hijacking of "interstate shipments," prostitution, corruption and racketeering. (Read the story "Resignation came prior to plea" and "Cocke target of federal probe for past 4 years")

July 11: The second batch of defendants from the June 11 cockfighting raid appear in Cocke County General Sessions Court. Special Judge David Creekmore from Knoxville hears the cases because John Bell is on duty with his U.S. Army Reserve unit. Most plead guilty or "no contest" to spectator charges. (Read the story "Cockfighting parade continues its march through court")

July 12: The country's largest animal protection group asks the Internal Revenue Service to revoke the tax-exempt status of the United Gamefowl Breeders Association. The Humane Society of the United States alleges in a letter that the Ripley, Miss.-based breeders group "promotes and defends the barbaric and widely criminalized practice of cockfighting." The breeders group calls the letter "a veiled attempt to implicate our association" in an illegal activity.

July 13: The U.S. Forest Service, FBI and Tennessee Highway Patrol's Criminal Investigations Division raid Shoemaker's Florist and Greenhouse, 132 East Broadway, Newport. They execute a federal search warrant as part of the same investigation that triggered the June 15 search of Newport Police Capt. Theodore Williams' house. The owners of the flower shop are Thomas Grant Williams' in-laws.

Thomas Grant Williams

July 18: All but one of 30 people who appear in Cocke County General Sessions Court enter "no contest" pleas to being spectators at the June 11 cockfight in Del Rio. Roger Dale Smith, an attorney who practices in Newport and is representing other cockfighting defendants, pleads not guilty, and a preliminary hearing is scheduled for Sept. 7.

July 21: Jailer Derrick Cureton, 20, is arrested at the Cocke County jail on attempted money laundering and conspiracy charges in connection with the July 29, 2004, trip to Atlanta and Miami. (Read the story "2nd Cocke County sheriff's employee arrested")

Officials from the Cocke County Election Commission say 2002 general election campaign disclosure records for Sheriff Ramsey and Cocke County Mayor Iliff McMahan Jr. are missing and may have been destroyed. The former election registrar, Diane Driskill, says she might have shredded them before she resigned June 30. The documents were stored in the basement of the Cocke County Courthouse Annex and could have been accessed by "almost anyone," according to newly appointed registrar Joyce Slagle. The only other person nominated to replace Driskill is Sheriff Ramsey's nephew, Jarrod Taylor.

Corrections officer Derrick Lynn Cureton is led from the Cocke County Jail in handcuffs by federal and state agents July 21.

July 22: Cureton is released on $25,000 bond after an initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Dennis H. Inman in federal court in Greeneville. Jeremy Jones pleads guilty to conspiring to distribute cocaine and is told by U.S. District Court Judge J. Ronnie Greer that he could face life in prison.

County Mayor McMahan copies his 2002 election records for the News Sentinel. Sheriff Ramsey provides copies of his records several weeks later.

July 25: A dozen cockfighting defendants from the June 11 raid in Del Rio enter no contest pleas to being spectators. Smith is told by Judge John Bell that he won't be allowed to represent other defendants who were charged in the raid. Schmutzer says that everyone who had originally been charged with being participants will be allowed to enter pleas to the lesser charge of being spectators because of a lack of evidence. He also says he will be "looking into" the documents that are missing from the Cocke County Election Commission. ( Read the story "Alleged cockfighting spectators enter no contest pleas")

July 26: Federal subpoenas are issued to the Cocke County Sheriff's Department, the Cocke County Trustee's Office and Chief Deputy Taylor. The first two subpoenas are for records of the county's drug fund, but authorities don't disclose the purpose of Taylor's subpoena.

July 27: The international Fraternal Order of Eagles organization announces that it is investigating the Del Rio lodge, after the News Sentinel presents the group with findings derived from public records detailing the club's membership. (Read the story "Cocke club a common link")

July 28: The News Sentinel asks to review the personnel file of Deputy Christopher Smith, who is taking a leave of absence. Sgt. David Crum declines to release the document, saying it's not public record because it's part of an ongoing internal affairs investigation. Department officials later confirm that the FBI has seized Smith's personnel file along with a videotape of the Oct. 4, 2003 traffic stop involving Dustin Lee White and former deputy Dodgin. Smith was one of the officers who responded to the scene, officials say.

Also, McCarter says that Chief Deputy Taylor is on medical leave.

July 29: The operators of five Cocke County establishments are cited into court after state and local authorities serve search warrants on the businesses.

Terry Hill, Special Agent in Charge of the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission's Knoxville office, says the raids culminated a four month long undercover investigation into the sale of liquor at establishments licensed only to sell beer. Those charged with the unlawful storage of liquor for resale are; Gary D. Walker, 53, Bybee, operator of Gary's Bar on Main Street in Newport; Vernon Eugene Hudson, 57, Newport, operator of Backway Inn on West Broadway; Patricia A. Allen, 62, Cosby, operator of Slammer's Bar on West Highway 25/70; Mary Janette Teague, 61, Cosby, operator of Fort Marx on Dark Hollow Road and Lacy Valentine, 57, Cosby, operator of The Blue Room on West Highway 25/70. Gary Walker also is charged with possession of a gambling device for allegedly having a race board posted on a wall and possession of a loaded firearm in an establishment where alcohol is sold.

Officers with the Tennessee Highway Patrol assisted in the raids, and Newport Police officers participated in the raids on Gary's Bar and Backway Inn because they are located inside the city limits.

Aug. 1: 20 people enter guilty or "no contest" pleas to being spectators at a cockfight in Cocke County General Sessions Court. Several preliminary hearings are scheduled for Sept. 7 for people who plan on fighting the charges.

Aug. 9: A federal grand jury indicts 53-year-old Michael Carl Vassar of Newport on charges of cocaine trafficking and possession of ammunition by a convicted felon. The three-count indictment alleges that Vassar possessed cocaine with the intent to distribute it on April 18, 2002, and also possessed six rounds of .22 caliber ammunition on that date. The indictment also accuses him of distributing cocaine on June 16, 2005, the day before Dodgin was arrested. He has prior convictions for distributing marijuana, trafficking in auto parts with altered vehicle identification numbers, altering VINs on auto parts, and mail and wire fraud. Vassar has been a member of the Del Rio Eagles club since 1998, when Raymond Hawk was manager and the aerie was in Newport.

Jarrod Taylor is the nephew of Sheriff Ramsey and the brother of Chief Deputy Taylor

Aug. 10: At least three sheriff's department employees and a Tennessee Highway Patrol trooper are given notice that their conversations have been intercepted by federal wiretaps.

Federal and state agents search Newport Games, 624 North Street, and a storage locker on Old Cosby Highway. Both facilities are used to store electronic gaming devices, and the agents reportedly confiscate several illegal gambling machines from the storage locker. The business license is held by Albert Shepard, age and address unknown, who can't be reached for comment. Jarrod Taylor, who is the nephew of Sheriff Ramsey and the brother of Chief Deputy Taylor, was still an employee of Newport Games when he applied to renew his liquor license through West End Package in late 2004 but his wife, Andrea, later tells The News Sentinel that he quit the gaming company shortly afterward.

Aug. 11: George Hicks, a Tennessee Department of Transportation employee and the alleged operator of the 440 Cockfight Pit, is assigned a court-appointed attorney. Hicks, who has received a letter from the U.S. Department of Justice informing him that he is a target of the probe, petitions U.S. Magistrate Judge Dennis H. Inman to appoint him a lawyer because he is the "sole source of monetary support" for his wife and adult daughter, who is unable to care for herself, court records show.

Aug. 15: Derrick Cureton pleads guilty in federal court to attempted money laundering and resigns from the sheriff's department. (Read the story "Cocke jailer quits, pleads guilty to laundering")

Aug. 17: U.S. Magistrate Judge Inman orders Michael Vassar to be held in custody pending trial. Inman cites Vassar's criminal history and notes that the FBI has information that he "was interested in hiring a hit man to kill another individual immediately prior to the" alleged 2002 drug transaction. He also notes that a federal judge ruled in 1992 that Vassar had obstructed justice by threatening to kill a witness.

Aug. 25: Cocke County school bus driver Dewey Lynn Phillips, 50, is arrested on federal drug charges. He is accused of possessing more than 24 pounds of cocaine and hawking "multi-kilogram quantities" of the illegal powder "on a weekly basis." Authorities also allege that he had 33 pounds of marijuana. He allegedly struck cocaine deals at the Cocke County garage where school buses and other county vehicles are kept, according to federal authorities. A search of two self-storage units rented by Phillips uncovered a safe hidden inside a stove, and inside the safe was 11 kilograms of cocaine and $32,000, according to FBI Agent Kevin S. Keithley. Also, "33 bricks of marijuana" were found in the storage units, Keithley alleges.

Sept. 1: Sheriff's department spokesman McCarter says that Chief Deputy Taylor and Deputy Smith have returned to work. DA Schmutzer says that no criminal laws were broken when the 2002 general election records were destroyed.

Sept. 7: Charges against 11 people charged with being spectators at a cockfight are bound over to a grand jury in Cocke County General Sessions Court. Assistant District Attorney Tracy Stone says the case against one man charged with being a participant, Gerald Allen II of Morganton, N.C., will be prosecuted by federal authorities. He also tells the other defendants that federal charges could be pending against other people who were snared during the Del Rio raid.

Sept. 13: A federal grand jury in Greeneville indicts Phillips, Vassar and 32-year-old James Mark Thornton of Newport on charges of conspiring to distribute cocaine.

Sept. 15: The International Fraternal Order of Eagles announces that its governing body, the Grand Aerie in Ohio, has voted unanimously to revoke the charter of the Eagle's lodge in Del Rio. The Grand Aerie cites numerous charter violations, including memberships granted to several people who have been convicted or accused of breaking "local, state and federal laws." The Grand Aerie's move effectively strips the club of its liquor license. Bill Smith, secretary of the state FOE organization, accuses the club's leadership of not giving "one dollar" to charitable causes as required and instead operating the lodge as a bar for "private gain." (Read the story "FOE revokes Del Rio charter")

Sept. 22: Sheriff's deputy John Wayne "Johnny" Black is interviewed about the 2002 motorcycle accident and other possible criminal activities by four FBI agents at the Tennessee Highway Patrol post in Newport after FBI Special Agent Thomas Farrow calls him on his cell phone. During the ensuing conversation, Farrow tells Black that "it's very evident in Cocke County that a line is being drawn, and there will be good guys and bad guys." Black, however, tells the FBI agents that, "I know one thing, guys ... you'ins are not my friends, you'ins are my enemies and I know that, so I'm gonna try to defend myself as much as I can from all of you guys." Black later goes to Sgt. Jonathan Morgan's house and tells him to "keep your story. Whatever you said in your deposition, keep it ... You didn't see nothing, son, you said you was sitting there and all you know somebody hit your leg'."

The Fraternal Order of Eagles #4350 in Del Rio, pictured here shortly before its charter was revoked by its parent organization for a host of alleged rule violations.

Sept. 26: Cocke County Sheriff's Department Deputy John Wayne "Johnny" Black, 34, of Newport, is arrested on federal mail fraud and perjury charges in connection with the 2002 motorcycle accident. Black is accused of filing a civil lawsuit against the Alcoa dealership where he bought his Suzuki GSX-R1000 bike as well as Suzuki Motor Corporation and American Suzuki Motor Corporation as part of a fraudulent scheme to collect more than $750,000 in damages. He allegedly committed perjury by claiming his injuries "were due to defects in the motorcycle, by concealing that he had engaged in an unsafe act at the time of the accident, and by giving false testimony under oath in a federal court deposition as to the cause of the accident," according to the FBI. In fact, Black was allegedly "performing a ‘wheelie'" when he wrecked, the FBI alleges. Black is one of the department's two K-9 officers.

Sept. 27: Deputy Black is released on his own recognizance by U.S. Magistrate Judge Inman. The conditions of his release include travel restrictions and a provision that he not have contact with firearms or other weapons if he is indicted by a grand jury.

Newport Police Chief Shults says the Newport officer who worked Black's wreck, Sgt. James Roach, appears to have properly investigated the crash. After reviewing Roach's report, Shults says: "I don't see anything that indicates to me that he did anything other than write an accident report based on what he was told at the scene."

Shults also responds to questions about memberships to the Eagles lodge in Del Rio that were held by city officers, including Sgt. Roach and Assistant Chief Don Ball. He points out that the international FOE organization is a well-known charity that contributes money to the families of fallen police officers and firefighters. "In these situations, generally what happens is someone comes around and asks for a donation, and officers tend to donate (to charitable causes)," Shults says. "That doesn't mean they ever go up there."

Shults says there is nothing unethical about being a private club member unless there is evidence of illegal activity on the premises, in which case he would be concerned because it's important for officers to maintain high standards of conduct even when they're off-duty. "Memberships in clubs, until it violates departmental policy, is fine," he says.

Newport Police Chief Maurice Shults

Sept. 28: Sheriff Ramsey announces that Black will resume his patrol duties pending resolution of his case. U.S. Magistrate Judge Inman reverses his earlier ruling that would have prohibited Black from possessing firearms or ammunition if he is indicted.

Sept. 29: Federal prosecutors move to postpone Oct. 17 sentencing hearings for Dodgin and Jones, saying that the "investigations and prosecutions in which Dodgin is cooperating or may cooperate will not be completed until January 2006 at the earliest." A similar motion is filed for Jones.

A federal subpoena is issued for Dustin Lee White to appear before a federal grand jury Oct. 11 in Greeneville and testify about "his knowledge in certain matters." White is a prisoner at the Cocke County Jail, where he has been serving time for a probation violation since Sept. 1.

Oct. 4: Dustin Lee White is taken out of the Cocke County jail by the U.S. Marshals Service and transferred to the Washington County Detention Center in Jonesborough, which is the main holding facility for federal prisoners in Upper East Tennessee. It is unclear what precipitated the transfer.

Oct. 6: Cocke County Sheriff's Department Sgt. David Crum says the internal affairs investigation into Dustin White's 2003 traffic stop has cleared Deputy Chris Smith of any wrongdoing. Federal authorities refuse to discuss the case.

Cocke County Sheriff's Department Deputy Christopher Randall Smith

Oct. 11: A federal grand jury in Greeneville returns a three-count indictment against Deputy John Wayne Black charging him with perjury and two counts of mail fraud in connection his 2002 motorcycle accident. Mail fraud carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison upon conviction and perjury carries up to a five-year sentence, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Oct. 13: Cocke County Sheriff's Department Deputy Christopher Smith is arrested on a federal indictment charging him with violation of civil rights and deprivation of civil rights by stealing money and property from Dustin Lee White during the 2003 traffic stop. He faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted of the conspiracy charge and up to a year in prison if convicted of the deprivation charge. Smith is released after his arraignment by U.S. District Court Judge Ronnie Greer, who allows Smith to carry firearms while he is on-duty. His trial is later scheduled for Dec. 22.

  Newport Police Sgt. James W. Roach Jr. leaves the federal courthouse in Greeneville after his Oct. 13 arrest with defense attorney Nikki Pierce, an assistant federal public defender.
Oct. 13: Newport Police Department Sgts. James W. "Jimmy" Roach Jr., 29, and Patrick Sheldon, 33, are arrested on a three-count federal indictment charging them with violation of civil rights and deprivation of civil rights by stealing money and property from two Hispanic men during a March 12 traffic stop. The officers face up to 10 years in prison if convicted of the conspiracy charge and up to a year in prison if convicted of the deprivation charges. Sheldon is the husband of Newport lawyer Joanne Sheldon, who is representing both Deputy Black and former jailer Cureton. Roach is the officer who investigated Black's motorcycle crash. The officers are released by Judge Greer, who allows them to carry firearms "only during regular hours of employment." Their trials are later scheduled for Dec. 20.

Newport Police Department Sgt. Patrick Sheldon

Records filed later in federal court show that the probe into the traffic stop began within two days of the incident when the alleged victims "promptly reported the misconduct." Both Roach and Sheldon told TBI Special Agent Geoff King that the traffic stop never happened and provided alibis, records show. The two victims, who are identified as Wilder Gomez Roblero and Marcos Mijia Vasques, are illegal aliens.

(Read the statements that Sgts. Roach and Sheldon gave to TBI Agent King.)

Oct. 14: Sheriff Ramsey is hospitalized at Baptist Hospital in Knoxville after suffering from unspecified heart problems and is listed in stable condition in the facility's coronary care unit.

Sgts. Roach and Sheldon are placed on administrative leave without pay by Chief Shults. They won't be allowed to return to work until their cases are resolved, he says.

A state prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney General Jimmy Dunn, says the arrest of so many Cocke County law enforcement officers will likely have a negative impact on the prosecution of local criminal cases but it's too soon to know how widespread the fallout will be.

Oct. 17: Sheriff Ramsey is released from the hospital. Medical tests show that his heart problems don't require surgery and can be treated with medication, according to McCarter.

Deputy Black is arraigned and a trial date is set for Dec. 21.

Oct. 22: McCarter says that Deputy Christopher Smith will be allowed to remain on duty pending trial.

Oct. 24: Sgts. Roach and Sheldon lose an appeal over their job status to Newport City Council. Their attorneys argue that they haven't been convicted of any crimes and indicate the evidence against the officers may turn out to be weak. City Council, however, votes 4-1 to uphold Chief Shults' decision to place them on administrative leave without pay.

Oct. 27: In response to a request by Chief Shults, DA Schmutzer issues a letter to Shults and Sheriff Ramsey explaining how the four patrol officers' indictments might affect pending criminal cases in Cocke County in which they might be called as witnesses. "These officers are innocent until proven guilty under the law, but obviously these charges will hurt their credibility in court," Schmutzer writes. "If the officer's testimony is not critical to conviction or can be independently corroborated, we will prosecute it. Otherwise, it will have to be dismissed." Schmutzer asks for written statements from each of the officers indicating "whether or not they will testify" in pending cases despite the possibility that they could be questioned by defense attorneys about the federal charges. Schmutzer writes: "For these reasons I must ask that, if you intend to keep working these officers, they not be assigned to law enforcement or investigative duties that might require their testimony in future cases until their federal cases are resolved." Schmutzer says as many as 21 criminal cases may have to be dismissed in Cocke County due to credibility issues about the officers' testimony but adds that the majority of the cases are misdemeanors.

Oct. 28: Sgts. Roach and Sheldon are reinstated by the Newport Police Civil Service Board at a hearing attended by more than 60 law enforcement officers and relatives of the two officers. Shults announces a plan to utilize Roach and Sheldon that will comply with the federal court orders, maintain the integrity of future cases, and also "prevent them from being hammered to death on the witness stand." After the meeting, Shults says the officers will be placed on patrol but be required to surrender their weapons while off duty.

Nov. 8: Deputy Black is accused of witness tampering in a superseding indictment returned by a federal grand jury; one of the two mail fraud counts is dropped. According to the new indictment, Black "did knowingly attempt to corruptly persuade and to engage in misleading conduct toward Jonathan Morgan by telling Morgan ‘keep your story. Whatever you said in your deposition, keep it' and 'you didn't see nothing, son, you said you was sitting there and all you know somebody hit your leg'." Black's alleged statements toward Morgan were made on Sept. 22 and were part of a scheme to both influence Morgan's testimony and "hinder, delay, and prevent the communication to a law enforcement officer of information relating to the commission of a federal offense," the indictment states.

Nov. 10: Authorities announce that a Cocke County grand jury has indicted 11 cockfighting suspects who received a preliminary hearing on Sept. 7. The nine men and two women from three states are each charged with being spectators at a cockfight, and defense attorney Joe Baker says that some of his clients intend to go to trial. DA Schmutzer says his office will consider plea bargains but "we intend to seek jail time for everyone who stands trial."

Those indicted are: Steve A. Watson of West Liberty, KY; Michael Clarence Webb of Sevierville; Sharon Rebecca Webb of Sevierville; William Todd Webb of Sevierville; Deborah L. Shults of Maryville; Ronnie Clifton Singleton of Lavonia, Ga.; Danny Ray Morrison of Kingsport; Lon Wade Matthews of Sevierville; Anthony L. Laughlin of Kingsport; Jeffrey Charles Burney of Bowersville, Ga.; and Timothy Shannon Buff of Morganton, N.C.

THP Trooper Kevin Kimbrough

Nov. 13: In a story published by The Tennesseean newspaper in Nashville about how political donations have influenced the granting of promotions in the Tennessee Highway Patrol, Harold Grooms is mentioned as being one of several people who recommended THP Trooper Dennis Jenkins for promotion to the rank of sergeant. The story mentions Grooms' 1992 state conviction and reports that the requested promotion took place five months after the letter from Grooms was sent to then-Safety Commissioner Fred Phillips. Grooms tells the newspaper that he was a friend of Jenkins' late father and is quoted as saying: "I've paid my debt. If I can help anyone, I will, as long as there's nothing wrong with it."

Nov. 22: Deputy Christopher Smith's trial date is canceled and a change of plea hearing is scheduled for Dec. 12.

Deputy Black's trial is rescheduled for Feb. 8 because of the superseding indictment.

Nov. 23: The attorneys for Sgts. Roach and Sheldon file motions to have the indictment against the officers dismissed because of alleged misconduct by the federal government. The attorneys claim that the officers' rights have been violated by FBI agents who have "gone to the home of a Spanish translator living in Cocke County who has assisted (the officers' attorneys and investigators) with interviewing one or more potential witnesses in this case. The FBI agents asked the translator questions relating to the interviews of the witnesses. The behavior of the agents in this conduct interfered with the defense's investigation of the case and obtained work product relating to the defense's theory of the case." Defense attorneys say that "the agents' behavior was the functional equivalent of wiretapping and eavesdropping" and interfered with the officers' rights to a fair trial, effective assistance of counsel and other Constitutional rights, according to the motions.

Nov. 28: Assistant U.S. Attorney Neil Smith says in court documents that the legal maneuvering to dismiss the charges against Roach and Sheldon "appears to be a thinly-veiled attempt to deflect attention from possible misconduct by their (the officers') operatives." Smith says that federal authorities learned on Nov. 17 that a former Cocke County sheriff's employee and Spanish translator, Pedro "Pete" Galvez, and Brian Hackett, an employee of the Federal Defender Services of East Tennessee (the public defender service which is representing Roach) had gone to the Newport home of one of the alleged victims, Wilder Gomez Roblero. "When Gomez' wife refused to open the door to speak with them, Mrs. Gomez was told by Galvez that the police would be called and they would let the men in, or words to that effect," Smith writes. "Of course, the threat to call officers from the same police department whose officers had already victimized her husband (and who remain on duty) terrified Mrs. Gomez. Hackett and Galvez subsequently tracked Gomez to his employment." Smith notes that it is a criminal violation to intimidate or harass a victim and the FBI was called in to investigate whether the law had been broken. Smith says that Galvez was interviewed at his home on Nov. 18 and he wasn't questioned about "work product" or the "defense's theory of the case."

Nov. 29: Judge Inman schedules a Dec. 5 hearing on the allegations leveled by both sides in the case against Roach and Sheldon. Inman writes that he wants to hear testimony from the involved parties "in order to lay this unseemly matter to rest." Also, the trial date for the two sergeants is changed to Jan. 10.

A Dec. 5 sentencing hearing for former jailer Derrick Cureton is reset for Jan. 30.

Nov. 30: Court records show that Deputy Christopher Smith has entered into a plea agreement with federal prosecutors that requires him to cooperate fully with their investigation. He agrees to plead guilty to a misdemeanor count of deprivation of civil rights; the more serious felony charge will be dismissed. He faces up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine.

Dec. 5: Judge Inman rules that the attorneys representing Sgts. Sheldon and Roach have shown nothing to support "an allegation of sinister secret-police type tactics" or their motions to dismiss the indictment. During the hearing, testimony shows that Hackett was not with Galvez on the Nov. 17 visit to Roblero's home. Galvez testifies that a man who answered the door at the home would not let him inside and a woman he assumed to be Roblero's wife appeared to be hiding behind the door. He admits that he left a business card that identified him as a sheriff's department sergeant although he had left the agency several months earlier in a dispute over claims that he overcharged the county. He denies threatening to call the police, as Roblero's wife had reported. "Not only was it reasonable for Mr. (Neil) Smith to dispatch the FBI, he would have been derelict in his duty if he didn't," Inman says. "Agents (Thomas) Farrow and (Lane) Rushing did their jobs. Nothing more. Nothing less."

Dec. 7: District Attorney General Al Schmutzer Jr. announces that he won't seek re-election after spending more than 30 years as the top prosecutor in Cocke, Sevier, Jefferson and Grainger counties. "I had time over the Thanksgiving holiday to really think about it and decided it was the right thing to do," Schmutzer, 63, says. "I've got a good retirement and can receive 75 percent of my salary at the end of this (eight-year) term. I want to stay busy, and I'm leaving open at this point what else I might do." Schmutzer, who once was profiled on a national magazine cover as a crime buster who cleaned up Cocke County, says there really hasn't been a single highlight of his career but rather "just a slew of them ... Unfortunately, when I'm busy, it's meant something bad has happened."

Dec. 9: The trial date for Sgts. Roach and Sheldon is changed to Jan. 31.

Dec. 12: Deputy Christopher Smith pleads guilty in federal court to depriving Dustin White of his civil rights in 2003. Judge Greer allows him to remain free and carry a firearm while on duty if he continues working as a patrol officer. Sheriff's department officials don't issue a statement concerning his employment status.

The News Sentinel again requests to review Smith's personnel file and the internal affairs investigation which cleared the officer prior to his arrest. Sgt. David Crum, however, says that federal authorities still have all of the pertinent documents. "Everything that we had was subpoenaed by the FBI," Crum says. "We didn't even have time to make copies." Assistant U.S. Attorney Neil Smith says he can't discuss what evidence has been seized during the investigation because of grand jury secrecy rules.

Jarrod Taylor and wife, Andrea (left) and Chief Deputy Patrick Taylor and wife, Patricia, leave the federal court house in Greenville. Cocke County Sheriff's Department Chief Deputy Patrick Taylor and his brother Jarrod Taylor were arrested by the FBI on charges of receiving and concealing stolen property.

Dec. 15: Deputy Black's attorney, Joanne Sheldon, files motions identifying five local lawmen as either federal informants or cooperating witnesses: THP Trooper Kevin Kimbrough, who was transferred from Cocke County to Hamblen County in October; Deputy Jonathan Morgan; former Newport police officer Derrick Webb, who has since moved to the Pigeon Forge Police Department; Deputy Christopher Smith; and former Deputy Larry Joe Dodgin. She asks the government to disclose its alleged involvement in Kimbrough's transfer, Webb's job switch and "Deputy Jonathan Morgan's employment offer with" the Pigeon Forge department. Sheldon also argues for the suppression of taped conversations involving her client, saying that some of the discussions were recorded after Black had been charged and he had retained her services. Therefore, she argues, the government violated his Constitutional right to counsel and should be sanctioned.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Smith later discloses that Kimbrough was transferred to Hamblen County after his "cooperation became known to targets and subjects of the ongoing investigation ... due to concerns for the officer's safety." Smith says that Morgan and Webb were told that federal prosecutors "will not pursue any possible perjury or false declaration charges arising from their deposition testimony in defendant Black's civil case in light of their voluntary and truthful cooperation in this criminal prosecution." He states that Black's constitutional rights weren't violated, says that when each recording was made after Sept. 27 that Black "initiated the conversation or contact," and argues that "the cooperating officers could properly elicit incriminating statements as to uncharged conduct, to include witness tampering and retaliation against cooperating witnesses."

Dec. 20 — 22: The attorneys for Sheldon and Roach file an appeal of an earlier ruling to obtain a bill of particulars from federal prosecutors outlining specifically what the officers allegedly did. They argue that the government hasn't told them exactly when the alleged offense took place, where it allegedly occurred, what kind of property was allegedly taken from the victims, how the property was allegedly taken, and other information. "Without knowing specifically what the government intends to prove ... it is doubtful that Officers Roach and Sheldon will be able to provide an adequate defense," they write. They also file an objection to Judge Inman's Dec. 5 ruling. Hearings on the motions are scheduled for Jan. 9 before Judge Greer.

Dec. 22: Chief Deputy Patrick Taylor, 39, and his brother, Jarrod Taylor, 34, are arrested on a two-count federal indictment charging them with conspiring to traffic in stolen goods and "aiding and abetting" each other in trafficking in what they believed to be stolen goods. The indictment stems from the May 17 transaction with Larry Joe Dodgin, and the Taylor brothers are released on their own recognizance by U.S. Magistrate Judge Inman after their initial appearance. Jarrod Taylor won't be allowed to possess a firearm while on pre-trial release, Inman rules, while Patrick Taylor will be allowed to carry a gun while on duty but has to surrender his passport.

Patrick Taylor appears calm and confident during the hearing. He enters the courtroom wearing a tan jacket and handcuffs, smiles at reporters and says, "Good morning, how y'all doing?" Jarrod Taylor smiles at his wife, Andrea, who sits next to her sister-in-law, Patricia Taylor, during the hearing. Inman asks the brothers and their wives several questions about their finances to determine if they might be eligible for court-appointed attorneys. Patrick and Patricia Taylor, who have no children, testify that they bring home a combined annual income of between $40,000 and $45,000 from their two jobs. Patricia Taylor says she is the sole stockholder in West End Package Store. She also says the couple owns a house valued at approximately $210,000, about $35,000 in stocks and several vehicles. Assistant U.S. Attorney Neil Smith interjects that Patrick Taylor also has a "food concession business" and "other business interests." Patricia Taylor says "I forgot about all that" but Inman interrupts the conversation by ruling that the officer doesn't qualify for appointed counsel. Jarrod and Andrea Taylor, who have a 5-year-old daughter, testify that their home is worth about $65,000. Jarrod Taylor is currently working as a delivery driver for English Mountain Spring Water and his wife works at a car dealership, they say. Inman indicates that Jarrod Taylor might be eligible for a court-appointed attorney but says the determination will be made later. Defense attorney Richard Talley, who represents Patrick Taylor at the hearing but hasn't been officially retained, says the officer wants to make it clear that he is innocent of the charges and "looks forward to his day in court."

As the Taylor brothers walk out of the federal courthouse in Greeneville following the hearing, Patrick Taylor flashes a "V" for victory sign to reporters and says, "Merry Christmas, y'all. Merry Christmas."

Dec. 23: Sheriff Ramsey says that Patrick Taylor and Christopher Smith will "probably not" be returning to work. The officers will remain on the payroll, he says, until they use up accumulated sick leave and comp time.

Dec. 28: Patrick and Jarrod Taylor enter "not guilty" pleas at their arraignment before Judge Inman. They each face up to 15 years in prison and $500,000 in fines if convicted of both charges. Patrick Taylor is represented by defense attorney David Hill while Jarrod Taylor is represented by court-appointed lawyer Olen Haynes Jr.

Dec. 29: Judge Inman rules that prosecutors may use the recordings made of Deputy Black after he had retained attorney Joanne Sheldon, saying the U.S. Supreme Court has held that tapes made after an attorney is retained may be used to impeach false testimony by the defendant. Assistant U.S. Attorney Smith tells Inman that he plans to use the tapes only to impeach Black if he testifies at his trial. Sheldon also asks the court to make all of the recordings made during the four-year probe available to her so she can determine if the recordings contain information that may be beneficial to her client. Smith says that some of the recordings include discussions about criminal activities that have not yet been publicly disclosed and are part of an ongoing investigation. "We don't want her to disclose the contents of the recordings or play them at the Waffle House in Newport," Smith argues. Sheldon says she learned through other attorneys of conversations dealing with the allegations against Black that she had not been provided. Smith replies that he is willing to provide the tapes to Sheldon after a protective order is issued to ensure that the contents of the tapes are not disclosed publicly. Sheldon also says that she has been unable to get the personnel files Larry Joe Dodgin and Christopher Smith because the files are in federal custody. Inman orders prosecutors to make copies of the files and give them to the sheriff's department so they then can be released to Sheldon.

Jan. 4: James Mark Thornton enters into a plea agreement with federal prosecutors in which he agrees to cooperate with authorities. He agrees to plead guilty to one count of the five-count indictment in which he was named along with Michael Vassar and Dewey Phillips. Thornton — who has several previous cocaine trafficking convictions — could face up to life in prison and $8 million in fines.

Jan. 5: The sheriff's department allows The News Sentinel to review Deputy Christopher Smith's personnel file after it is returned to the agency by federal authorities. The file indicates that Smith had no record of disciplinary problems prior to his arrest.

The trial date for Deputy Black is changed to March 8 because one of Black's key witnesses — attorney Ben Hooper III, who represented him in the civil trial — won't be available on Feb. 23.

Jan. 9: At the conclusion of a hearing, Judge Greer says he will issue written rulings on the arguments offered by Sheldon and Roach. Assistant U.S. Attorney Smith concedes that one of the alleged victims admitted using someone else's identification to get a job. The second alleged victim apparently is in Mexico, he says, and the government is working to get him back to the United States for trial.

Former Newport officer Derrick Webb is forced to resign from the Pigeon Forge Police Department following media reports about his involvement in the federal probe. In a letter to Pigeon Forge Police Chief Jack Baldwin, Webb writes: "This letter comes after I have been scrutinized by the administration of this department, after learning of my involvement in assisting the United States government in a federal probe involving police corruption, and having been given the ultimatum of resigning or being terminated, it is with regret I tender my resignation."

Chief Baldwin later defends his decision to ask for Webb's resignation, saying: "He was a probationary employee, and when we became aware of him perjuring himself in a civil case, it kind of put us in a predicament. We had to do something, and we allowed him to resign."

Sheriff Ramsey

Jan. 11: Authorities unseal records detailing the 2005 tracking of the minivan driven by Jarrod Taylor. (See story "Cocke sheriff target of probe")

Judge Greer rules against Sgts. Sheldon and Roach by upholding Judge Inman's earlier rulings.

Jan. 12: Among the exhibits entered into the record in the case against Michael Vassar is a Dec. 2, 2005 letter written by Vassar to Michael McCarter, who turned the document over to federal prosecutors, records show. In the letter, Vassar asked McCarter to "tell Pat" that "Jeremy Jones is talking about him. He talks to FBI all the time. I told him to quit running his mouth an(d) they moved me the next day ... . Take care. Don't trust anyone. FBI is all over Newport." The letter is used by prosecutors to deny the most recent request by Vassar's attorney, Herbert S. Moncier, to have Vassar released on bond pending trial.

Capt. Billy Wayne Moore

Jan. 13: Sheriff Ramsey announces that Patrick Taylor is being replaced by Capt. Billy Wayne Moore, a 19-year veteran with extensive supervisory experience.

Jan. 16: Sheriff D.C. Ramsey resigns effective Jan. 31.

In his resignation letter to County Mayor Iliff McMahan Jr., Ramsey writes: "After all the negative publicity about myself and Cocke County, I think it would be in the best interest of myself and Cocke County, which I dearly love, to step aside now so some good things can be said about our county. (See a copy of the resignation letter)

"I also have had serious health problems which I need to really care for and be concerned with now, upon my doctor's recommendation.

"I would like to thank everyone for their assistance and support over the last eight years and ask that they continue to support our county with the same loyalty that has been given to me.

"I ask for your thoughts and prayers as I continue to regain my health and spend quality time with my wife, children and grandchildren." (Read the story "Cocke County sheriff resigns")

Jan. 17: Cocke County commissioners decide to appoint a new sheriff at a called meeting Jan. 30. They also vote to give all qualified applicants a chance to make a presentation to commissioners. Records from the Cocke County Election Commission show that eight men have picked up qualifying petitions for the May 2 Republican primary, including Chief Deputy Billy Wayne Moore.

Jan. 20: U.S. Magistrate Judge Inman issues several search warrants based on an affidavit by TBI Agent James D. Williams detailing attempts to penetrate an alleged cocaine and marijuana distribution network involving Harold Grooms, 58; Mike Gunter, 40, of Newport; and William "Bill" Banks, 57, of Dandridge. The affidavit says that Grooms has allegedly imported large quantities of illegal drugs at his home and two businesses, Hilltop Auto Sales in Newport and Four Star Auto Sales on Cosby Highway. Federal court records also indicate that agents from the FBI, TBI, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have been converging on Grooms during a period of at least six years. The agents have used subpoenaed phone records, secretly recorded conversations and several confidential informants who are referred to in court documents by numerical designations — "CI-1" to "CI-7" — to protect their identities.

According to the affidavit, a confidential informant who, "in the past, has participated in the distribution of large quantities of marijuana to Grooms by providing it to Bill Banks who then delivered it to Hilltop Auto," conducted a number of marijuana transactions with Banks starting in mid-November 2005 while discussing plans to sell between 4 and 6 kilograms of cocaine to Grooms and Gunter. "During the covert meetings with Bill Banks, all of which were recorded electronically, CI-1 was advised that Harold Grooms and David Lancaster, an employee at Hilltop Auto ... wanted to take delivery of the cocaine from Banks" at Banks' garage in Jefferson County or at one of Grooms' properties. Banks referred to Lancaster as Grooms' "right-hand man" and "the person who sticks his neck out for Grooms in the cocaine business," according to the affidavit. Lancaster was also described as the person who runs Hilltop Auto for Grooms.

The affidavit states that another informant, dubbed "CI-2," has been working with ATF Agent Paris Gillette and has "told Gillette that he had delivered in excess of 400 kilograms of cocaine directly to Harold Grooms" between 2001 and 2004. On Jan. 16, Banks allegedly told CI-1 that "he, Lancaster and Grooms would take one-third out of each kilogram and ‘re-rock' the cocaine. ... CI-1 asked what the cocaine would look like once CI-1 received it back from Lancaster. Banks said that Lancaster had informed him that it would be in a brick, and that no one would be able to tell that the kilogram had been touched," the affidavit states. "Banks also told CI-1 that Grooms was doing the same thing, 're-rocking,' with the 4 kilograms of cocaine that he was purchasing. ... CI-2 told (ATF Agent) Gillette that Grooms had told him that he utilized hydraulic presses to make 13 kilograms out of 10 kilograms."

Also, the affidavit says that an informant referred to as "CI-6" has described a female employee of Four Star Auto Sales, Debbie Walker, as having aided Grooms in illegal activities, according to the affidavit. For instance, Walker "has recently told CI-6 that one of her responsibilities with her job was to count and bundle large sums of money. Walker told CI-6 that she had counted $400,000 to $500,000 at a time for Harold Grooms in a special room inside Four Star Auto."

Jan. 24: The trial for Sgts. Roach and Sheldon is pushed back to Feb. 2. Roach's attorneys file a motion to compel full disclosure of an agreement allegedly reached between the government and one of the alleged victims, Wilder Gomez Roblero, who has been granted a "parole for significant public benefit" that allows him to remain in the country. Also, they say "the remaining alleged victim, identified in the indictment as Marco Mijia Vasquez, has fled the country to Chiapas, Mexico, and as of yesterday, is not available to the government for subpoena for trial." Roach's attorneys attach a copy of Roblero's criminal history report to their motion, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Neil Smith responds by asking for the report to be stricken because it violates "the Court's rule and the right to privacy of a victim." Roblero's criminal history includes charges for traffic violations and driving under the influence, but the records don't indicate if he was ever convicted of the offenses.

The trial for the Taylor brothers is reset to April 25 at the request of Jarrod Taylor's attorney, who argues that more time is needed to listen to all the audio recordings made during the investigation as well as to seek "specialized knowledge" concerning more than 100 pages of documents turned over by prosecutors.

Jan. 26: Federal and state search warrants are executed at several locations in Cocke and Jefferson counties, including Harold Grooms' house. Grooms isn't charged but later retains attorney Jonathan Holcomb of Morristown, a former state prosecutor, to represent him. They also seize several vehicles from Hill Top Auto Sales in Newport and Four Star Auto on Cosby Highway. According to public records, Grooms holds no business licenses in Cocke County and public records provide only clues as to how he earns an income. For instance, he owns — either alone or in partnerships with others — more than a dozen pieces of property with a combined county tax-appraisal value of approximately $450,000, records show. The business license for Four Star Auto Sales is held by Jimmy Lay and the license for Hilltop Auto is held by Bryan Buckner and Darrell Mitchell, according to the Cocke County Clerk's Office.

As agents from the FBI, TBI and other agencies fan out across Cocke and Jefferson counties, search warrants are executed at the homes of Mike Gunter and Bill Banks as well as two garages at Banks' business in Dandridge, Banks' Auto Sales. Gunter and Banks are arrested at Bank's business on federal charges of attempting to possess with the intent to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine. According to court records, a confidential informant working with the TBI made a recorded telephone call on January 25 to Banks to finalize discussions regarding the delivery of cocaine. "It was agreed that Banks and Gunter would take delivery of approximately 2.5 kilograms of cocaine the following day ... and would pay approximately $48,000 for the deal," the complaint says. As planned, the confidential informant travels to Bank's place of employment, Bush's Canning factory in Chestnut Hill, where Banks works as a security guard. Banks allegedly delivers in excess of $48,000 for the cocaine with the understanding that the informant will deliver the product to Bank's property in Dandridge. As arranged, Banks and Gunter show up to take possession of the cocaine at 11:15 a.m. and are arrested.

Jan. 27: U.S. Magistrate Judge Dennis Inman declines to release Mike Gunter and William "Bill" Banks on bond. Mike Gunter, who was caught up in the 1987 chop shop investigation, has an extensive criminal history involving numerous auto theft-related charges but no previous drug accusations, court records show.

Chief Deputy Billy Wayne Moore is sworn in as the new sheriff of Cocke County

Jan. 30: Chief Deputy Billy Wayne Moore is appointed sheriff by Cocke County commissioners in a called meeting that lasts only 10 minutes. The only other candidate to appear before commissioners is Newport Police Department Sgt. James Holt. Moore is sworn in immediately and will take office Feb. 1. He receives a standing ovation from the crowd and promises that his first priority will be restoring public trust in the department. He says that he will be making a number of changes in the department but declines to go into specifics. He does say, however, that Deputy Black will remain on duty pending trial. (Read the story " Vote for Cocke sheriff unanimous.)

Feb. 2: Sgts. Roach and Sheldon go on trial in federal court in Greeneville. Attorneys weed out a number of potential jurors before settling on a panel of seven men and five women. As the jury is picked, Assistant U.S. Attorney Neil Smith makes it clear he wants to exclude any jurors who might be biased against illegal Hispanic immigrants, thousands of whom have come to the area in recent years and triggered strong reactions in the traditionally homogenous communities of East Tennessee. "They don't look like us, they don't speak English, they're from a different culture," Smith says. "We can be a little closed minded." Two of the prospective jurors are dismissed by Judge Greer after admitting to being heavily biased against illegal immigrants.

Newport Police Department
Sgt. James W. "Jimmy" Roach

Newport Police Department
Sgt. Patrick Sheldon

In his opening statement, Smith says the case is about police officers abusing their powers and describes the sergeants' alleged actions as "petty theft" while outlining the case against them. Smith says the incident happened as Roblero and Vasques were driving to the Wal-Mart in Newport shortly after 5 p.m. March 12, 2005. He says they were pulled over by Roach and Sheldon, who never reported the traffic stop to dispatchers. The officers had no legal reason to stop the men, he says, and one of the officers stole at least $400 in cash while searching them. The officers' attorneys, however, say the traffic stop never occurred and imply that the government rushed to judgment without obtaining all the facts. Nikki Pierce says the government's theory "does not fit, it does not work, and the facts do not support it. It didn't happen."

The first witness is Michael Gray, an ambulance worker at an Allied EMS station in Newport who testifies that he was washing his vehicle in the parking lot when he saw the traffic stop occur "about 150 feet away." He describes the stop as uneventful and says he recognized Roach because they've known each other since the officer was a teenager. Roblero then takes the stand and describes the incident but at times appears unresponsive or confused while being questioned by defense attorneys. Roblero says he can't speak English, so his testimony is relayed through a pair of court-appointed interpreters. After jurors are sent home at the end of the day, Judge Greer expresses concern about whether Roblero is understanding the questions posed to him and instructs attorneys to ask only simple, direct questions.

Feb. 3: Roblero concludes his testimony, often responding with "I don't know" or "It's been a while" as defense attorneys hammer him with questions about the alleged incident and his criminal history. Vasques — who was flown into the United States from Guatemala and arrived in East Tennessee only hours earlier — tells much the same story as Roblero but also admits under cross-examination to having spoken with Roblero about his testimony during a phone conversation from his hotel room the night before. The defense team later asks Greer to sanction prosecutors for possibly violating a rule prohibiting witnesses from contacting each other, but Greer overrules their objection. During cross-examination, attorney Nikki Pierce repeatedly stresses that Vasques has himself been guilty of numerous federal crimes simply by sneaking into the country and obtaining a false social security number to secure employment. Both of the alleged victims are also quizzed about apparent inconsistencies between their testimony and their original statements, such as the amount of money allegedly taken from Vasques.

Chief Maurice Shults and other witnesses explain to jurors how the initial investigation unfolded. Only minutes after the alleged incident took place, the victims made a complaint to the E-911 Center through a local Spanish interpreter that Roblero's common-law wife knew from the Cocke County Health Department. The alleged victims and the interpreter met with Shults at the department two days after the incident and picked out "Unit 18" (a marked Crown Victoria with no lightbar on the roof) as the car that had pulled them over. Sheldon was tentatively identified as the officer who was driving the cruiser and was described as the "good officer" but his passenger — who allegedly took the cash — was referred to as the "bad officer." Unit 18, which has no in-car video camera, is the only Newport cruiser without a lightbar on its top, and testimony shows the vehicle had been issued to Sheldon and that Roach was riding along with him because of a shortage of cars. Shults says he called the TBI because it was clear the case "needed to be handled by an outside agency." Shults also says he was told the "bad officer" was wearing "dark glasses," and Smith subsequently introduces bank photographs taken shortly before the alleged incident that appear to show Roach wearing sunglasses on his head. (Read the story " Chief testifies in cop trial")


Feb. 6: Michael McCarter announces his resignation from the sheriff's department effective March 1. McCarter, a former county commissioner who pulled double-duty as jail administrator and spokesman, offers no reason for his resignation. (See his resignation letter.)

In federal court in Greeneville, the government wraps up its case against Roach and Sheldon after introducing more photographs of Roach entering the Wal-Mart to cash his check at a bank branch about 5 p.m. March 12, this time with a pair of sunglasses clearly on his head. TBI Agent King then testifies about the case and says that Roach and Sheldon denied the traffic stop ever happened when he interviewed them but their formal statements (which include their alibis) aren't admitted as evidence. King also admits to not seeking fingerprint evidence from the alleged victims' wallets, saying it wasn't a viable option.(Read the statements that Sgts. Roach and Sheldon gave to TBI Agent King.)

Roach and Sheldon present several witnesses — none of whom testify for more than 20 minutes — as part of an effort discredit their accusers, establish an alibi for their whereabouts when the alleged incident occurred and cast doubt on the thoroughness of the TBI probe. Roy Maples, who is serving time in the Greene County Jail for an unrelated offense, testifies that he was arrested by the officers around the time of the alleged traffic stop. Kim Potts, a woman who admits to having had a "crack cocaine problem" in early 2005, says the officers pulled up to ask her about a broken car window while she was parked a few blocks from the scene of the alleged traffic stop in a neighborhood dubbed "Crack Alley." Also, the operators of a used car lot testify that Roblero spoke limited English and signed a false name on a document while trying to buy a car for a friend of his. An 18-year-old girl, Lindsey Hazelwood, says that she saw Sheldon and Roach enter a convenience store on C osby Highway about 5 p.m. as she was exiting the store. She says her father was a Newport officer and she knows both officers by sight. (Read the story " Squabbling by lawyers slows 2 officers' trial" )

Most of the day's proceedings take place, however, with the jury not present in the courtroom as attorneys continue their battles over proof. Pierce seeks several times to introduce documents and testimony in an effort to portray Roblero as an unreliable witness based on his purported use of numerous aliases and other alleged acts of dishonesty. Smith objects strenuously to Pierce's motions on the grounds that they are inadmissable under federal rules of evidence. "We'll be here until the cows come home with all this stuff," he says at one point. Pierce retorts: "If we're here until the cows come home, it's because this witness has a credibility problem." Judge Greer is openly skeptical of Pierce's arguments and ultimately rejects most of them. "If these officers did what they are accused of doing, what does it matter what the victim's name is?" Greer asks. Pierce also tries unsuccessfully to call FBI Agent Lane Rushing to the stand in order to ask him if the government is allowing the alleged victims to get away with immigration violations in exchange for their testimony. Pierce also questions why the case is being heard in federal court and says the government might have pursued the indictments to "prosecute this case as part of a larger investigation into Cocke County." Smith replies that the federal government took the case due to "serious concerns" about getting "a fair trial before a Cocke County jury."

Feb. 7: Only one witness testifies on the fourth day of the Newport sergeants' trial. Greg Stevens, who owns a convenience store near the factory in Greene County where the alleged victims were employed in March 2005, produces records of a paycheck made out to an alias used by Roblero that was cashed March 11. His statement appears to contradict that of the alleged victims, who had indicated in their earlier testimony that they cashed their paychecks the day of the incident. Roach and Sheldon choose not to testify on their own behalf.

During closing arguments, the race of the alleged victims takes center stage as the officers' attorneys seek to discredit the mens' testimony by pointing out the numerous illegal activities they have engaged in by sneaking into the United States, securing fake documentation for employment and other acts of dishonesty. Roblero in particular is singled out by Pierce as having made inconsistent statements under oath. "He stood on the stand and lied to you," she says. "Can you trust him?" Moore tells the panel of all-white jurors that for years the officers "have been swung at, sworn at, and spit at in the process of defending us" and accuses the government of trying to sway the jury's sympathy in favor of the alleged victims by painting them as "poor little Mexicans." At one point, he holds up a photograph of an unshaven Roblero and then shows a picture of the officers, saying, "If you see somebody in a dark alley that looks like this, then you'd better hope you also see so mebody who looks like that." Pierce and Hill say the government's case is implausible because the timeline outlined by witnesses shows that the officers were occupied by interacting with Potts and arresting Maples. Pierce points out that federal authorities haven't prosecuted Roblero or Vasques for immigration crimes and even drove Roblero to court to testify. "These two individuals are not concerned about being deported," she says.

Prosecutor Smith, however, argues the alleged robbery took place between 5 and 5:30 p.m., leaving plenty of time for the officers to have committed the theft and spoken with Potts before arresting Maples at 5:35 p.m. He tells jurors that "racist invectives" leveled against the alleged victims are part of an effort to "treat these men as something less than human." Smith also says the alleged victims are "strangers in a strange land" who were forced to testify in an unfamiliar courtroom through interpreters and their "confusion may be perceived as dishonesty." Roach and Sheldon "used their power to violate the civil rights of people they believed to be powerless and take money from them," Smith says, and the United States Constitution was designed to protect people from such abuses. "In the U.S., police officers don't rob people," he says. "That's what our nation is all about." (Read the story "No verdict yet in Newport shakedown triall" )

Feb. 8: After about nine hours of deliberation, jurors acquit Roach and Sheldon of the felony civil rights conspiracy charge but fail to reach a verdict on the remaining two counts, which are misdemeanors. They agree to resume their discussions the following morning in an effort to break the deadlock. Read the story "Newport officers win in court")

Feb. 9: Judge Greer declares a mistrial in the case of Roach and Sheldon after jurors indicate they are "hopelessly deadlocked." A new trial date is set for March 21.

Judge Greer also releases Michael Vassar on $50,000 bond after his lawyer, Herbert S. Moncier, successfully argues that federal prosecutors failed in their responsibility to disclose important records about cocaine allegedly seized during the probe. Moncier says the information was given to him only a few days before the hearing, despite repeated requests for the information over several months. Moncier accuses prosecutors of violating his client's constitutional right to present a defense, arguing that "unless the rules are enforced against the government the rules become meaningless to wither like grapes on a vine and fall to the ground to rot." He then asks Greer to either suppress the cocaine evidence or release Vassar on bond and postpone his cocaine trials.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Nancy Harr argues against both options, saying the government turned over the information as soon as it was available. She also argues that Vassar's background shows he is a threat to the public and should remain in jail. She refers specifically to the letter he sent to McCarter, especially the passages in which he wrote of telling a witness to stop talking to the FBI and said: "Don't trust anyone. FBI is all over Newport." Moncier ridicules the letter by pointing to extensive media coverage of the corruption probe. "Who doesn’t know the FBI is all over Newport?" he asks. "You'd have to be an ostrich with you head in the sand over the past six months to not know that." He also asks how the government can maintain that Vassar is a danger to the community when they chose to wait more than three years to arrest him after allegedly finding the cocaine and bullets in 2002. Greer ultimately refuses to suppress the cocaine evidence but postpones Vassar's cocaine trials and orders him released into the custody of family members.

Feb. 10: Sgt. Roach asks Judge Greer to allow him to possess firearms at his residence "and at all other times" as part of his pre-trial release conditions. Roach points out that he was acquitted of the felony charge and now faces only misdemeanors. "Roach is a police officer ... and his employment, as the Court can take judicial notice of, involves inherent danger to him and his family," according to a motion filed by attorneys Moore and Pierce. "Roach has served the citizens ... honorably, honestly, and bravely while under indictment in this case."

Feb. 14: In Greeneville, a federal grand jury indicts Newport Sgt. Patrick Sheldon on a misdemeanor charge of being an accessory after the fact to the alleged March 12, 2005 theft. The new three-count indictment retains the original deprivation charges but also alleges that Sheldon "did receive, relieve, comfort, and assist the offender (Roach) in order to hinder and prevent the offender’s apprehension, trial and punishment" between March 12 and March 15, 2005. U.S. Magistrate Judge Inman grants Roach's request to be allowed to possess firearms without restrictions. Although Sheldon didn't file a similar motion, Inman also amends his pretrial release conditions to allow him to have firearms.

Christopher Hogglan, deputy archivist, and Cocke County election Registrar Joyce Slagle stand beside one of several locked cabinets where election records are now stored. They used to be kept in unsecured cardboard boxes like the one Slagle is holding until records from the 2002 election cycle were discovered to be missing last summer. They were never found.

In Newport, the News Sentinel requests records from the Cocke County Election Commission pertaining to the local 2002 campaign drive for Bredesen, but Election Registrar Joyce Slagle says the records are among those that went missing over the summer. She explains that all election documents are now kept in locked cabinets. "The petitions, the campaign finance disclosures, they're not here," Slagle says while discussing what prompted the new security measures. "All of those records are gone."

Deputy Governor Dave Cooley

Feb. 15: Deputy Governor Dave Cooley says in Nashville that he and the governor were unaware of Grooms' previous convictions, knowing him basically as an active and enthusiastic volunteer during the 2002 campaign. "Mr. Grooms was an excellent volunteer," Cooley says. "His son was, too. They were very active." When first asked about Harold Grooms' relationship with Gov. Bredesen and Grooms' status as a convicted felon, spokeswoman Lydia Lenker says: "I don't know about his background. All I know is what he does for us." Lenker also says she doesn't know what Grooms does for a living but describes him as an energetic volunteer and fundraiser. She compares the nature of the relationship between Grooms and Bredesen to that of the governor's relationship to "thousands of volunteers" who work for his campaign.

Feb. 16: Michael Vassar is acquitted of the charge that he had possessed ammunition as a convicted felon in 2002 after a trial at the federal courthouse in Greeneville. During the trial, a Michigan man testified that he had previously owned Vassar's automobile. The witness, who was called to the stand by defense attorney Herbert S. Moncier, testified he had the ammunition in his vehicle when the vehicle fell into a pond. He said the insurance company took possession of the vehicle with the ammunition inside. Kevin Murrell, a relative of Vassar's, bought the truck at an auction and, in 2002, took it to Vassar's Cocke County garage to work on it, Murrell testified. Although Murrell confirmed he found the ammunition in the truck, he claimed his right against self-incrimination when asked what he did with it. Murrell, like Vassar, is a convicted felon. Vassar still faces separate trials on the two cocaine charges.

Governor Bredesen

Feb. 17: In Nashville, Gov. Bredesen answers questions about Grooms. "He certainly was active in my campaign," says Bredesen. "I can't tell you who I met him through, but I met him during the campaign. I just heard in the last couple of days that he may have some problems. I'm very sorry to hear that. He's not someone I was avoiding particularly because I wasn't aware of any of the issues he had. Given what I know now, obviously I'm going to be much more arm's length until that all gets sorted out." Bredesen also says he doesn't recall the topic of the May 2005 meeting with Grooms, only that "it was probably one of those brown bag lunches, I think." Bredesen often has had sandwiches in the governor's office with officials and supporters from various areas of the state. (See related articles " The governor and the felon" and " FBI has eye on Grooms")

In Greeneville, prosecutors unseal a federal indictment charging four men with conspiring to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine between November 2005 and Jan. 26. Kenny Z. Holt, 30, Newport, and Curtis Banks, 42, Dandridge, are arrested by agents while the other two men named in the indictment, Mike Gunter and William "Bill" Banks, have been in custody since their Jan. 26 arrests. Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Reeves says that Bill and Curtis Banks are brothers. If convicted of the conspiracy charge, the men face a minimum mandatory sentence of 10 years to life in prison and up to $4 million in fines. U.S. Magistrate Judge Inman frees Holt and Curtis Banks on $20,000 bond each. Also, a superseding indictment is unsealed accusing Gunter of conspiring with Michael Vassar, Dewey Phillips and James Thornton of conspiring with "others known and unknown to the grand jury" to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine between Jan. 1 and Aug. 24, 2005.

Feb. 20: Bredesen campaign spokesman Will Pinkston announces that all campaign contributions received from Harold Grooms, Kenneth Frazier and H-1 Auto Parts will be returned. "We're not trying to cast aspersions on anyone, but from an abundance of caution we feel it's appropriate to return those dollars," Pinkston says. "At the time of the contributions, we weren't aware of any legal issues of this nature involving Mr. Grooms and the others ... If we become aware of any other contributions that fall under the shadow of the federal investigation, we will return those as well." Pinkston says the total amount to be refunded is $22,300. (See related article "Bredesen: Donations returned")

Feb. 21: While acknowledging a need to "be careful" about sources of campaign money, Gov. Bredesen says that giving refunds is the appropriate way to handle money donated by people targeted in the Cocke County probe. "In a political campaign, you can't do a background check on everybody that writes you a check or wants to come to an event or something like that," Bredesen says, adding there could be "10,000 contributors" in a statewide campaign. "Some of them are going to get into trouble and, when it happens, I'm going to do what I think is the right thing, which is to return the money. And that's what we did .... I don't know what else I can do. I'm trying to be very straightforward, as straightforward as I can about it."

State Republican Chairman Bob Davis, however, says: "Apparently this guy (Grooms) was his main man up there. This governor has an interesting circle of friends, both at the campaign level and in his administration."

Feb. 22: At the request of prosecutors, U.S. District Judge Ronnie Greer dismisses the cocaine trafficking charge against Michael Vassar stemming from 2002. He still faces the charge of conspiring to distribute cocaine with Dewey Phillips, Mike Gunter and James Thornton.

Feb. 23: The second trial of Newport Sgts. Roach and Sheldon is rescheduled for April 5. Sheldon's wife, Joanne Sheldon — who is representing Deputy John Wayne "Johnny" Black and former jailer Derrick Cureton — files a motion to be allowed to represent her husband along with David Hill. Assistant U.S. Attorney Smith, however, argues that she might be called as a witness. He also says that allowing her to represent her husband might create a conflict of interest.

Feb. 24: Federal prosecutors move to dismiss the mail fraud charge against Deputy John Wayne "Johnny" Black in order "to streamline the presentation of evidence as to the remaining counts and to conform the charges to the evidence to be presented at trial."

Feb. 28: The Jan. 26 search warrants targeting Gunter and Banks are unsealed in federal court along with the supporting affidavit. The search warrant returns show that agents seized $6,000 in cash, a Chevrolet pickup truck, and various financial documents from Gunter's home. At Banks' house, they found a quart of "clear liquid," a quart of "brown liquid," more than $4,200 in cash, and two handguns. At Banks' Auto Sales, agents recovered a pistol, $2,772 in cash and other items. Other search warrants, however, remain under seal in both federal and state courts. (Read the search warrants and supporting affidavit for Gunter's house, Bank's house, and "Garage Aa" and "Garage B" at Banks' Auto Sales)

March 2: Judge Greer allows Joanne Sheldon to enter her husband's case as co-counsel for "the limited purpose of motion practice." Nikki Pierce and Tim Moore file a motion on behalf on Roach asking for permission to question jurors from the first trial as to why they deadlocked "in order that counsel may more effectively prepare for the retrial on the counts on which the jury could not agree." They say interviews would be conducted on a strictly voluntary basis and would ensure that jurors don't "feel intimidated, harassed, or embarrassed." She also says that Sheldon has a right to interview the jurors, who in turn have "the First Amendment right to participate if they wish." Assistant U.S. Attorney Smith, however, argues that "strong public policy reasons weigh against post-verdict interrogations of jurors concerning their deliberations." He also cites a local rule requiring that a judge give permission before jurors are interviewed, saying it "reflects the long-standing rule that federal courts do not look with favor on the interviewing of jurors after a verdict."

Harold Grooms

March 3: Defense attorney Herbert S. Moncier of Knoxville files notice in federal court that he is representing Mike Gunter along with Newport lawyer Thomas Testerman and that Gunter is invoking his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial. Moncier also files notice that he is representing Harold Grooms along with Jonathan Holcomb.

March 5: Moncier says his clients will contest the allegations made against them and questions why the search warrants related to the cases against Gunter and Banks were made public. "It's an unusual move for the government to unseal them," Moncier says. "No one requested them to." As for the allegations themselves, Moncier says: "It is difficult to defend against accusations made by secret people. Mr. Gunter has demanded a speedy trial and will look forward to meeting these accusations in court. Mr. Grooms has not been charged with anything but will look forward to the opportunity to defend himself against the government's press releases. ... It's bizarre that they release secret matters with secret names with no charges."

March 6: Gov. Phil Bredesen's campaign announces it will return $300 to David Lancaster, who donated the money in May 2002. Lancaster was mentioned in a story published this date by The News Sentinel on the Jan. 26 search warrants. "It's a relatively small amount, but we feel it's the right thing to do to return those dollars," campaign spokesman Will Pinkston says. "We continue to feel it's the appropriate thing to do, to return any contributions of anyone whose name is part of this ongoing investigation. ... We've been talking to our political supporters in East Tennessee, and at this point we're not aware of any other names of individuals who are connected to this investigation who gave to this campaign. If any new information comes out, we'll certainly return those dollars as well."

March 8: The trial of Cocke County Sheriff's Department deputy John Wayne "Johnny" Black begins in federal court in Greeneville.

"At its core, this case is about lying ... and getting other people to lie for you," Assistant U.S. Attorney Neil Smith says in his opening statement. Defense attorney Joanne Sheldon, however, offers up another theory while describing a sheriff's department that was torn apart by paranoia as word spread in 2005 that the FBI had "a snitch" working from the inside. "This case is simple," she says. "They (the FBI) wanted my client to be a snitch, and he said no." Sheldon argues that Black's lawsuit was legitimate and he was arrested because he refused to "wear a wire" at the behest of federal authorities. "He made the agents mad," she says, referring to the Sept. 22, 2005 meeting between Black and FBI agents. "He was disrespectful."

At the heart of the government's case are audio recordings secretly made in 2005 by Sgt. Jonathan Morgan and former reserve deputy Derrick Webb. Jurors hear several recordings in which Black stressed to Morgan and Webb the importance of not changing their testimony in light of the FBI's investigation into the wreck. In the recordings, Black also expressed scorn for the FBI agents who had questioned him. "They had two or three things hangin' over my head, son," he told Morgan. "You know what, the whole time, they never once said anything about chargin' me, the whole hour-and-a-half, they never once said, ‘If you don't work for us, Johnny, we'll charge you with everything we can.' You know why they didn't say that — because they don't have no proof. They got hearsay on everything ... I've lived a life of struggle. They're not gonna get me that easy. I won't roll on nobody, I won't tell on myself, I'm not gonna do it, you know, I've got more pride than that."

Webb and Morgan testify that they first lied about the crash on Black's behalf in order to help out "a friend" but then carried on the alleged deception by going on to provide false statements in depositions for Black's civil lawsuit. They said they notified the FBI of their false testimony in 2005 because they realized they had behaved unethically. Webb says he was a reserve Cocke County deputy at the time of the accident and explains that he has since been forced to resign from his position at the Pigeon Forge Police Department due to the false statements he initially made in the case. "I knew it was the wrong thing to do, but I did it anyway," he says. "It's something I've had to live with."

Sheldon elicits testimony from Webb that he had been working with the FBI for an indeterminate period of time although he had first indicated his involvement with the probe began around the time he left the Newport agency. Webb admits to having used an FBI recorder, for instance, while speaking to Harold Grooms sometime before Sept. 7, 2005. Sheldon attacks the credibility of Webb and Morgan by pointing out that the government has decided not to charge them for their false statements. She confronts Webb about a Sept. 7, 2005 tape in which Webb told THP trooper Kevin Kimbrough — who was also working secretly for the FBI — that Morgan believed the FBI would "make it painfully known" that he'd helped uncover corruption and then back him in the upcoming sheriff's race. When Morgan takes the stand, however, he denies that the FBI had ever promised to support him as sheriff. He recently picked up qualifying papers for the position, he says, but has since opted to drop out of the race.

March 9: Jurors deliberate about two hours before convicting Black of both perjury and witness tampering. He is allowed to remain free on bond pending a July 10 sentencing hearing.

The last witness for the prosecution is THP Trooper Kimbrough, who testifies that he first began secretly taping conversations for the FBI in mid-2004 at the request of Terry Wolfe of the THP's Criminal Investigations Division. Kimbrough says his relationship with Black was strictly work-related and that his job included befriending corrupt officers such as Larry Joe Dodgin, staging traffic stops in support of undercover operations and trying to recruit other people who might be willing to work for the FBI. In one taped conversation with Kimbrough that is played for the jury, Black said he hadn't told his own attorneys that he was riding on a single wheel when he wrecked. "Do these crooks tell their attorneys what they really do?" Black asked Kimbrough. "No, they say, 'I wasn't at the scene of that crime; you can't put me there. Now you get me out of this mess, you know what I'm saying?' ... So I done the same thing."

The only witness called by Black is FBI Agent Thomas Farrow, who says that Black was questioned because "he has very specific knowledge of the corruption and his assistance would have been helpful," but the deputy refused to cooperate. Farrow also says that Black wasn't charged because of his lack of cooperation. During cross-examination, Smith asks Farrow if he would expect "a sworn officer" to cooperate with the FBI. "Yes, sir, I would," Farrow replies. "It's their sworn duty, sir."

In her closing argument, Sheldon accuses the FBI of using heavy-handed tactics to coerce deputies into cooperating and argues that, while Black had deliberately limited his answers in his deposition, his statements don't equal perjury. She also says that Black had merely been trying to warn his friends about the FBI's interest in his civil case when he told them to stick to their stories. "He (Black) wasn't trying to save his own neck," she says. "He was trying to protect his friends from the FBI." Smith, however, dismisses Black's strategy of attacking the FBI as symptomatic of corrupt law enforcement and "the world turned upside down that Johnny Black lives in, where the code of silence is more important than the law or justice."

March 10: Sheriff Moore announces that Black hasn't been fired but has instead been placed on administrative leave without pay. Moore says that Black will be allowed to present to him any "evidence he may have on his own behalf, which he has not had opportunity to present." Moore also points out that he was not sheriff when the indictment was returned against Black and that he has not seen the indictment or conviction. "Upon receipt of those documents and/or other ruling on any motion for a new trial, this matter shall be further considered," Moore says.

Judge Greer schedules a March 14 hearing on a request from the News Sentinel to have access to the names, phone numbers and addresses of the jurors who deadlocked in the trial of Newport Sgts. Sheldon and Roach. "Notice is also given that the court may consider an order prohibiting interviews with jurors or publication of news articles that report on the internal deliberative processes of the prior jury as necessary to protect the constitutional rights of the defendants to a fair trial," writes Greer, who also blocks Roach's attempt to interview the jurors in a separate order.

March 13: At the request of federal prosecutors, Judge Greer reschedules former deputy Christopher Smith's sentencing hearing for May 15. In his request to have the hearing postponed, Assistant U.S. Attorney Smith writes: "As part of his plea agreement, Smith agreed to cooperate in the investigation and prosecution of other persons and offenses ... Certain cooperation by Smith has not been completed and is not reasonably expected to be completed by the scheduled sentencing date (March 20); however, such cooperation is expected to be concluded within the next month. Accordingly, the government will not be able to advise the Court of the full extent of Smith's cooperation and/or make any motion for downward departure until approximately mid-April 2006."

March 14: Judge Greer rules that the News Sentinel may have access to the names of the jurors who heard the case against Sgts. Sheldon and Roach but will not be given their addresses or phone numbers. "The names of jurors impaneled to sit at a trial are called out in open court during (jury selection) proceedings," Greer writes in his order. "However, the addresses and telephone numbers of jurors are not part of the court record and, thus, are not available to the public. The law is clear that the media cannot be denied access to information in the public domain. However, the First Amendment does not impose a duty upon the court to make available to the press information not available to the public generally."

Greer also agrees to release to the newspaper a copy of a transcript of court proceedings during the jury selection process that may serve up additional clues to help the newspaper track down jurors. Although Greer's ruling hands the newspaper a partial victory and sets a precedent on the release of the names of federal jurors, Greer makes it clear that his decision would have been far different had Sheldon and Roach not backed the newspaper's request. "This court has seriously considered prohibiting post-verdict interviews of the prior trial jurors altogether until after the retrial of this case because of the significant Sixth Amendment (right to a fair trial) issues raised by such interviews," Greer writes in a footnote to his order.

March 15: A Newport man, 70-year-old Robert Landon Holdway, is found lying in a yard at 901 West Broadway about 10:30 a.m. Holdway, who has been shot in the abdomen, is taken to a Johnson City hospital where he is listed in critical condition. Before he is loaded into a medical evacuation helicopter, he tells sheriff’s department investigator Robert Caldwell that he was shot by someone but is unable to identify his assailant. Cocke County sheriff's deputies search the house and find nine video poker machines "that were all hooked up, all running" as well as a "huge poker table," Sheriff Moore says. Moore also says he believes that numerous video poker machines have been moved from convenience stores and bars since the probe became public knowledge. The machines have since been installed in private residences as part of "a system" to avoid detection by the FBI, he says.

March 17: As part of the investigation into the shooting of Robert Holdway, the TBI executes a search warrant at a warehouse in the Chestnut Hill community of Jefferson County. They find 38 poker machines stored in a warehouse, 26 of them operable, according to Jefferson County Sheriff David Davenport.

In Greeneville, defense attorney Herbert S. Moncier says he wants to continue representing Harold Grooms, Mike Gunter and Michael Vassar. After a contentious hearing in which Judge Greer expresses frustration over the combative relationship between Moncier and federal prosecutors, Greer says he will issues a ruling at a later date. (See story "Attorney wants to continue representing his three clients"). Greer then holds a detention hearing for Gunter in which several of Gunter’s relatives, friends and a former state probation officer testify on his behalf. They say that Gunter buys, fixes and sells cars for a living as well as sometimes taking part in house construction projects. Moncier tells Greer that the case against Gunter consists of testimony obtained by the government from "contract witnesses" who are trying to avoid lengthy prison sentences by telling tales. Moncier and one of Gunter’s other attorneys, Phil Owens, tell Greer they have contacted inmates who are incarcerated with Gunter in Johnson City who say that Dewey Lynn Phillips recently approached him in his cell, apologized and said: "I would get 10 years to life if I didn’t tell them I sold stuff to you." Moncier also alleges that Phillips secretly entered into a plea agreement with prosecutors in December and a government informant, Chris Schults, has also entered into a secret plea bargain but remains at large "in the community" despite a history of drug trafficking. Moncier also identifies two other men as government informants and says: "If they (the government) want to protect the public from my client, they should stop trying to sell my client drugs." Assistant U.S. Attorney Nancy Harr, however, counters that Moncier hasn’t overcome the legal presumption that Gunter is a danger to the community in light of the charges he faces. She also disagrees with Moncier’s characterization of the proof against Gunter as consisting of "no physical evidence, no corroborating evidence" by telling Greer that the TBI laboratory has found one of Gunter's fingerprints on the inside of the duct tape used to wrap the $48,000 in currency seized in the alleged cocaine transaction.

At several points in the hearing, Greer expresses frustration at the degree of personal conflict between Moncier and prosecutors. "You don’t trust them and they don't trust you," Greer tells Moncier at one point. "You all need to learn to talk to each other, you need to learn to do it civilly."

Also in Greeneville, Sgts. Sheldon and Roach ask that the charges against them be dismissed because of alleged prosecutorial misconduct and vindictiveness. The officers’ attorneys make numerous allegations against the government, including lying about the actions of investigator Brian Hackett in pre-trial actions and allowing Wilder Roblero to commit perjury on the witness stand. They also accuse the government of taking actions "that effectively prevented" the testimony of a crucial witness, Charles "Mo" Swanson, who could have corroborated their alibis. Swanson is a convicted felon but had some of his legal rights restored by a Cocke County judge in 1993 and later obtained a state permit to carry a handgun, records show. Shortly before the trial, however, Swanson's handgun permit was revoked after Smith sent a letter to the Tennessee Department of Safety asserting that his "firearm rights could not have been restored by a state court," records show. During the officers' trial, Smith had indicated that Swanson had possessed a firearm, which would have been a federal crime, and the officers had known about it. Swanson wasn't called to the stand by the defense team, and the officers' attorneys now claim "the obvious threats by the government before and during trial intimidated Swanson into not testifying."

March 20: Joanne Sheldon files a motion to withdraw from Deputy John Wayne "Johnny" Black’s case, saying that Black was privately retained but "has now been placed in a position of trying to find employment to provide for his family’s basic needs" and is now in need of court-appointed counsel, possibly from the public defender’s office. Assistant U.S. Attorney Smith later files a response indicating that the government isn’t taking a position on her request but believes there may be a conflict of interest with the public defender’s office. "Because disclosure of this information establishing such actual or potential conflict in the public records of this Court could be alleged to adversely affect defendants’ rights to fair trials and because such information relates to ongoing investigations into other potential charges, the government requests leave of Court to disclose such information ? under seal."

March 21: As part of the investigation stemming from Holdway’s shooting, the TBI executes a search warrant at a property on Sugar Hollow Road in the west part of Hamblen County and seizes about $101,000 in cash from a house. In a detached garage, they also find "about five" illegal poker machines, says Hamblen County Sheriff Otto Purkey.

March 22: The U.S. Attorney’s Office files a motion in the forfeiture case against the Del Rio Cockfighting Pit property asking that the land be forfeited to the federal government because owners Donald and Donna Poteat haven’t filed "a claim or answer" in the case.

Joanne Sheldon asks for a hearing into the government’s suggestion that the Federal Defenders Service might have a conflict with representing Deputy Black. Sheldon alleges that she had been told by the government that she had been given "all recordings relating to the defendant" and was even placed under a "gag order" that prevented her from disclosing the contents of those tapes to her client or anyone else. Sheldon, however, says that she eventually "came to believe that additional information (tapes, etc.) existed" which prosecutors had withheld based upon a sealed affidavit given to her in the case against Derrick Cureton. Sheldon says her "belief of the existence of said material ... was discussed with the defendant (Black) and the 'unknown' was calculated into the defendant's choosing not to testify on his behalf." If relevant information was withheld from Black, Sheldon argues, then Judge Greer should consider whether prosecutors defied court orders and affected Black’s right to a fair trial. Greer then files an order replacing Sheldon with attorney Robert B. Dickert.

March 23: Judge Greer turns down Mike Gunter’s bid to be released on bond and prohibits Moncier from representing Gunter, citing an "obvious conflict of interest."

March 24: Assistant U.S. Attorney Smith tells Judge Greer that his office has "repeatedly" encountered "a problem" with orders filed in Cocke County Circuit Court and signed by judges there that either wrongly award felons the right to go armed or are used by felons as a legal excuse to go armed. Greer bars Smith from cross-examining Swanson about gun possession allegations at the upcoming re-trial and questions Smith's timing, noting that Smith wrote the letter to the Department of Safety that cost Swanson his gun permit just weeks before the first trial was to begin. Greer also informs Roach’s attorneys that he won’t allow race-baiting during the sergeants’ retrial. "The stunt you pulled the last time was improper," Greer says. Pierce tells Greer that she used the photograph of alleged victim "for identification purposes" during the trial and Moore contends that his use of the photo was not a play to racial stereotypes or bias. "That (statement) was based on his criminal demeanor on the stand, his criminal record," Moore argues.

March 26: Mike Gunter's remaining two attorneys, Tom Testerman and Phil Owens, file notice that they wish to be removed from his pending criminal case because Moncier has been disqualified. They say that Gunter doesn't have the money to hire a trial attorney and Owens had agreed to work on the case "for little or no fee ... pursuant to a joint defense agreement with Mr. Vassar whereby Mr. Gunter and Mr. Owens would have the benefit of Moncier's investigation, pretrial preparation and experience." The motion states that Gunter "by agreement and design" has "only made a token payment" to Testerman and there is a question as to whether a loan taken out by Gunter's family to pay Moncier can now be used to hire another lawyer.

April 3: Assistant U.S. Attorney Smith files a motion for downward departure for Derrick Cureton, acknowledging his cooperation in the "Rose Thorn" probe by recommending a lighter sentence than called for under federal guidelines. Smith suggests that Cureton receive a prison sentence of 27 to 33 months, which is significantly less than the 37- to 46-month sentence he might face otherwise, and that he participate in a substance abuse program while behind bars. Smith says that Cureton has met with FBI agents "on at least two occasions" and has complied with his bond requirements. He also says "the information and assistance which Cureton provided appears to have been truthful, assisting in the prosecution of at least two individuals." Smith also notes that, "while there is no direct information that Cureton's cooperation has exposed him or his family to any danger or risk of injury, the Court is generally aware of attitudes in Cocke County concerning cooperating defendants and witnesses." Smith also asks to file two FBI reports under seal "for a period of one year or until further order of the Court" because they "contain information relating to ongoing investigations as well as information concerning persons who have not been, and may not be, charged with criminal offenses."

April 4: On the eve of the officers' retrial, Judge Greer rejects the motion to dismiss the indictment against Sheldon and Roach. Also, Derrick Cureton's sentencing hearing is pushed back to May 22.

April 5: Just before the second trial of Sgts. Roach and Sheldon begins, defense attorneys tell Judge Greer they are still concerned about possible government retaliation against Charles "Mo" Swanson if he testifies is support of the officers. Swanson is the operator of a convenience store next to the Wal-Mart in Newport, and the officers claim to have gone there after cashing Roach's check on the day of the alleged incident. Although federal prosecutors have now agreed not to prosecute Swanson for the possible crime of being a felon in possession of a firearm, it appears that the FBI has launched an investigation into "other alleged" acts of Swanson, the defense team says. In addition to the officers' lawyers, attorney Phil Owens makes an appearance on behalf of Swanson, and they ask that "blanket immunity" be given to Swanson to counter the "chilling effect" of the government's actions. Greer holds a private conference with the attorneys but doesn't make a public ruling.

The government's first witness is EMT Michael Gray, who repeats his earlier testimony that he witnessed the alleged traffic stop from an ambulance station's parking lot. Vasques testifies about the alleged incident but concedes during cross-examination that he has provided different estimates of how much money was in his wallet prior to the alleged traffic stop as well as how much cash was allegedly stolen from him. "I don't remember anymore," he says.

April 6: Vasques and Roblero are subjected to intense questioning by defense attorneys who seek to portray them as dishonest and disrespectful of U.S. laws. When pressed on details of the alleged incident, Vasques says he can't positively identify the officers or the patrol car they were driving. His testimony also conflicts at several points with what he told jurors during the first trial concerning the amount of cash missing from his wallet and whether one of the officers was wearing sunglasses. When Nikki Pierce asks him if he is aware that he could be prosecuted for perjury if he lies on the stand, Vasques replies: "I don't understand perjury. That's like a law?" Roblero insists that he's only gone by one alias to obtain employment since entering the U.S., an assertion that paves the way for a heated round of cross-examination. Roblero — who answers many questions with "I don't remember" — is forced to explain how he ended up being known by a third name to authorities in Bradley County after he was arrested there several years ago. Roblero says the officers in Bradley County didn't speak Spanish well and he went along with the name they had mistakenly given to him. Roblero also says he was able to identify the driver of the patrol car from a photo at the Newport Police Department as well as the car itself. NPD records presented to the jury show that Sheldon had been assigned to that car on the day of the alleged incident and Roach had joined him on patrol because of a shortage of police vehicles.

April 7: Newport Police Chief Maurice Shults explains how he turned over the investigation to the TBI after one of the alleged victims was able to tentatively identify Sheldon and picked out the distinctive patrol car that the officers were assigned to on March 12, 2005. TBI Agent Geoff King then explains how the investigation unfolded, saying that both officers denied the traffic stop had ever happened and provided alibis as to where they were at the time. According to King, the officers said they went to Wal-Mart to cash Roach's check, stopped off at the market owned by Swanson, checked on a vandalized car owned by Kim Potts and arrested Roy Maples. King, however, says the officers' alibis don't add up because their timelines are inconsistent and conflict with other evidence, such as surveillance photographs from Wal-Mart. King says he didn't collect fingerprint or DNA evidence and he didn't interview the alleged victims for more than a week after the incident because he had trouble arranging a meeting with them. "At this point, they were not trusting of law enforcement in general," King says. King also testifies that he interviewed employees from Swanson's store — which is a popular hangout for local police officers — and they told him they didn't remember the accused officers being there on the day of the alleged incident. The employees later indicated, however, that they "wanted to change their information," he says. During cross-examination, Tim Moore criticizes how King interrogated the officers, especially his tactic of asking Sheldon what the officer's response would be if it turned out that there were video or audio recordings of the stop. "You treated him like a common criminal?" Moore asks. King replies: "I don't refer to Mr. Sheldon as a 'common criminal.' He's an officer." The defense team then presents several witnesses to buttress the officers' accounts and raise questions as to whether King thoroughly investigated their alibis. Kim Potts, Roy Maples, and Lindsey Hazelwood repeat their testimony from the first trial. Swanson isn't called to the witness stand and the defense rests with the officers again not testifying.

April 10: Jurors begin their deliberations after hearing closing arguments. Assistant U.S. Attorney Smith summarizes the testimony and refers to the many pieces of evidence introduced, including the photos of the officers entering Wal-Mart and cell phone records from a phone used by Roblero on the day of the alleged incident that Smith says fixes the time of the stop at about 5:20 p.m. Smith argues that the government's case doesn't hinge on any particular piece of evidence, depending instead upon the statements of the alleged victims as well as numerous pieces of corroborating evidence to demonstrate that the officers abused their power to commit a "petty, petty, stupid crime." There are simply too many coincidences to be explained away by the officers' alibis, which are in any case inconsistent with other pieces of evidence, Smith maintains. The defense team then attacks the TBI probe as slipshod, maintaining that King failed to thoroughly check out the sergeants' alibis and failed to investigate the alleged victims' backgrounds. They say that investigators overlooked key pieces of evidence and stress that the alleged victims didn't mention a cell phone in their first accounts, a key fact that was uncovered by defense investigator Brian Hackett. Pierce says that Roblero, in particular, has lied about the aliases he has used. "Why lie about who you are?" she asks. Moore says the alleged victims probably saw the officers make another traffic stop, knew how to "work the system" and then "concocted this story." In his rebuttal, Smith implies that the only way the defense team could have known about the cell phone was if the traffic stop had occurred because the only people who knew the phone was in the minivan were the sergeants and the alleged victims. His statement prompts objections from the defense team, who argue that Smith is misrepresenting facts because they first learned of the cell phone because Roblero told Hackett about it during an interview.

April 11: Jarrod Taylor agrees to plead guilty to one count of the two-count stolen property indictment. He will receive no more than five years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000, court records show. The government also agrees that the plea bargain is "a full disposition of the known federal charges ... as well as any charges or potential charges concerning or relating to illegal gambling activities," court records show.

Jurors deliberate for nearly seven hours in the trial of Roach and Sheldon. Late in the day, they indicate to Judge Greer that they have reached unanimous verdicts on some of the charges but have deadlocked on whether Roach stole cash from Vasques and on the accessory count against Sheldon. Defense attorneys ask Greer to allow the jury to publish their verdict, and Pierce reminds Greer that jurors had indicated in an earlier communication that some of "the evidence was subjective" and they'd already made up their minds about it. This means, she says, that there is a danger of jurors reaching a "compromise verdict." Greer, however, instructs the jury to continue deliberating.

April 12: Patrick Taylor signs off on a plea bargain that spares him from prosecution for possible gambling-related offenses. Like his brother, he faces a maximum five-year prison sentence and $250,000 fine. Both brothers are scheduled to formally enter their guilty pleas on April 24.

(View the plea agreements for: Jarrod M. Taylor and Patrick Allen Taylor. View a document of agreed facts in Patrick Allen Taylor's case.)

Roach is convicted of depriving Vasques of his civil rights and Sheldon is convicted of being an accessory. The two officers are acquitted on the remaining charges. Sentencing is scheduled for July 24, and their attorneys indicate they plan to appeal the verdict. Pierce says she believes that Smith's statement about the cell phone during closing arguments was improper and influenced the jury's decision. She also says that jurors reached a "compromise verdict" and reiterates her position that the jury should have published their verdict the previous day. Her motions for a mistrial, however, are denied. Newport Police Chief Maurice Shults says afterward that he plans to consult with the city attorney and city administrator as well his department's guidelines before deciding the officers' future status. Roblero and Vasques aren't in the courtroom for the verdict. They were both in the country illegally at the time of the incident, but they are temporarily living and working in East Tennessee with the permission of the federal government after they were granted a parole "for significant public benefit" due to their status as witnesses in the case. Vasques testified at trial that he will be returning home to to Guatemala after his 90-day permit expires, but it's unclear what will happen to Roblero, who is from Mexico.

April 13: Federal prosecutors file motions in the cases against former deputy Larry Joe Dodgin and Jeremy Jones to reduce their sentences in light of their cooperation. Both men are scheduled to be sentenced on April 24. Under federal sentencing guidelines, Dodgin faces 120 to 131 months in prison but Assistant U.S. Attorney Smith recommends that a sentence of between 87 and 108 months be imposed. Prosecutors also recommend that Dodgin take part "in the residential substance abuse program and mental health programs while incarcerated" in the federal prison system, which may result in up to a year's reduction in the amount of time he must actually serve behind bars. In Jones' case, prosecutors note that Jones "has been involved in criminal activity all of his adult life." Because of his criminal history, federal sentencing guidelines call for him to spend up to 27 years in prison but prosecutors say his cooperation should earn him a reduced sentence of between 188 and 235 months.

April 16: Newport Police Chief Shults says he has placed Sgts. Roach and Sheldon on administrative leave with pay pending a final decision on their employment status.

April 18: Robert Holdway dies from the gunshot wound he suffered March 15.

Five people facing trial on charges of being spectators at the June 11, 2005 cockfight in Del Rio enter "no contest" pleas in Cocke County Circuit Court. They receive 30-day suspended jail sentences and are each fined $50 plus court costs when they appear before Circuit Court Judge Ben Hooper II. Their plea bargains leave only six defendants awaiting trial on the misdemeanor charges, and their cases are expected to go before a Cocke County jury Aug. 30. Those entering into plea agreements are: Jeffrey Charles Burney of Bowersville, Ga; Anthony Laughlin and Danny Ray Morrison of Kingsport; Deborah Shults of Maryville; and Ronnie C. Singleton of Lavonia, Ga.

Newport City Council approves an agreement between the Newport Police Department and Sgts. Roach and Sheldon that will place the officers on unpaid administrative leave pending resolution of their appeals.

April 21: James Mark Thornton's defense attorney, Charles R. Martin, files a sentencing memorandum in which he claims that Thornton began buying large amounts of powder cocaine from Harold Grooms in January 1995 so he could sell it to another man, identified only as Tom Davidson. According to the memo, Thornton "sold about 2 oz. of cocaine every 2 days to Mr. Davidson." Martin argues that Thornton should get a sentencing break because he allegedly gave substantial assistance in the late 1990s to state authorities who had promised to dismiss charges stemming from a late 1996 arrest. The charges weren't dropped, however, which "has made it more difficult for defendant to defend the sentencing portion of this case," Martin writes.

April 24: Patrick and Jarrod Taylor formally enter guilty pleas before Judge Greer to one count of conspiring to traffic in stolen goods. Their sentencing hearings are set for July 24.

Former Deputy Larry Joe Dodgin is sentenced to 8 years in federal prison to be followed by four years of supervised release. "The only thing that separated you from the people you had the power to arrest was your badge and a gun," Greer tells Dodgin, who is now 27.

From the witness stand, Dodgin apologizes repeatedly for his actions and says he wanted to "redeem myself" by bringing other crooked lawmen to justice. "I just want the court and the government to know that I really am sorry," Dodgin says. "I wish I could go back and take it back." Dodgin says he was taken under Patrick Taylor's wing when he was hired and later went on to witness various types of corruption such as illegal video poker machines, cockfighting and "other little things." He also says the Ramsey/Taylor family is too powerful for him to ever get a job in Cocke County when he is released from custody. "They have more pull and connections than any other family in Cocke County," Dodgin says. "I'd be ashamed to show my face there ... I'll probably have to move."

When Dodgin is asked by Assistant U.S. Attorney Neil Smith why he chose to emulate Taylor's behavior rather than follow in the footsteps of his stepfather, state trooper Michael Holt, Dodgin replies: "I let the prospect of easy money cloud my judgment." In a bid to secure a more lenient sentence than that suggested by prosecutors, Dodgin's attorney, J. Russell Pryor, calls both Dodgin's mother and fiancée to the witness stand to say that his two small sons have been traumatized by his incarceration. They also say that Dodgin is needed at home to care for ailing relatives. Greer, however, appears unimpressed by Dodgin's testimony. Greer says the former deputy "had a responsibility" to uphold the law no matter what his co-workers were doing and also criticizes the suggestion that Dodgin should receive a lighter sentence because of the psychological harm it might cause his sons. "Those children are innocent victims," Greer says. "You have victimized those children ... . Don't victimize your children and then come into this court and say 'give me a break because my children have been victimized'."

Dodgin's stepfather, who doesn't testify, had earlier filed a letter with the court in which he wrote that "it was hard for my advice to overcome what he was seeing at the Cocke County Sheriff's Department." Holt goes on to describe several instances of alleged misconduct by other lawmen that he believes affected Dodgin, including a time when he was allegedly ordered by then-Sheriff Ramsey to drop a drug charge against a political supporter whom Dodgin had cited to court. Holt also says that Dodgin had once arrested another man for DUI one night and Patrick Taylor "came out and physically removed the arrested individual from the back of the patrol car and released him" after the suspect called the chief deputy. "A sad thing is Joe was a good officer when he wanted to be," Holt wrote. "I really feel that, him being young, that it was easier for the system here to demoralize him and more or less make him feel (that) doing good and right was in vain."

May 2: Retired state trooper Claude Strange defeats Billy Wayne Moore in the Republican primary race for sheriff. Strange wins 3,876 votes in the four-way primary and will move on to the August general election to face off against Independent candidate Richard Fowler. Moore got 3,750 votes, and remaining 23 percent of the votes were split between candidates James Holt and Vaughn Moore. "I gave it all I had, but I had an uphill battle," Moore says afterward. Strange can't be reached for comment.

Jimmy Dunn, a longtime assistant prosecutor for 4th Judicial District Attorney General Al Schmutzer Jr., defeats Sevierville lawyer Joe Baker in the Republican primary race for Schmutzer's post. Dunn defeats lawyer Joe Baker by 1,731 votes out of more than 32,000 votes cast in Sevier, Cocke, Jefferson and Grainger counties, according to county election commissions. Because there is no Democratic challenger, Dunn will take over the DA's office when Schmutzer's term expires in August. "I just plan on working as hard as I can, just like I've done in the past, and doing the best for all the citizens of each of the four counties," Dunn says. Election returns show that Dunn lost to Baker in Sevier, Grainger and Jefferson counties, but managed to pull in so many votes in Cocke County — 7,120 to 2,168 — that it tipped the race in his favor.

May 5: Sgts. Roach and Sheldon file a joint motion for a new trial alleging prosecutorial misconduct and arguing that it was improper for Judge Greer to instruct jurors to continue deliberating after they had indicated they were deadlocked. The officers' attorneys say that Assistant U.S. Attorney Smith made an improper closing argument concerning how defense attorneys learned about the cell phone that was in the victims' possession when the alleged theft occurred. "The government's argument was a last act of desperation to obtain a conviction in this case," they write. "It was highly improper and affected both Roach and Sheldon's right to a fair trial and warrants the dismissal of the charges or at a minimum the granting of a new trial." They also claim that the government introduced "false, misleading and perjured testimony" in the case. The officers' attorneys seek permission to interview the jury foreman in order to ascertain how the jury's decision was influenced by the factors listed in their motion.

May 9: Derrick Cureton's attorney, JoAnne Sheldon, files a memorandum arguing that he should be sentenced to probation or home confinement. According to Sheldon, Cureton was a "minimal participant" who didn't help or even see Larry Joe Dodgin sell drugs although he "knew that the monies were not derived from any lawful activity." She also says he wasn't involved in planning the 2004 trip to Atlanta and Miami, knew very little about the details of the trip and "only drove the vehicle for one rotation." She also points out that he has no prior criminal record and has accepted responsibility for his actions and argues that the information he's provided to the government should earn him a sentencing break greater than that asked for by prosecutors. Cureton has been a full-time student at Walters State Community College since his arrest and plans on attending the University of Tennessee, she says, and "prison confinement would have a very negative impact on all the progress Mr. Cureton has accomplished since the time of his arrest."

In a letter to Judge Greer, Cureton apologizes for his conduct and asks "for a chance to move forward with my life the best I can. I was young and wanting to fit in, when I should have been a leader and not a follower. I will say that while I worked in the jail I tried to do what was fair and did not allow drugs into the jail, I took my job serious ... This event in my young life has affected me so much. I went from being a healthy 21-year-old to having panic attacks and not being able to sleep at night because of the thought of being in prison ... I don't want you to think I take this lightly, I know what I did was wrong and I'm sorry. I just ask for a second chance."

May 10: Darrell Hayes, a former Cocke County jailer and West End Package Store employee, is arrested by the FBI on a one-count indictment charging him with violating the civil rights of an inmate, Gregory P. Brown, by beating him in 2003. Hayes, 22, could face up to 10 years in prison and $250,000 in fines if convicted. Judge Inman releases him on $10,000 bond and sets a July 19 trial date.

Brown, 36, has a lengthy criminal history that includes convictions for vehicular homicide and burglary. At the time of the alleged Nov. 14, 2003, incident, Brown was a pretrial detainee in the jail. Brown accused Hayes and another jailer, Josh Williams, of provoking an altercation with him and then pushing him into a holding cell. Brown claimed that he was knocked to the floor with such force that he required five stitches in his head and was then held down by Williams as Hayes repeatedly kicked him. After the alleged beating occurred, Brown filed a lawsuit against Hayes, Williams, and department administrators. An out-of-court settlement was reached in August 2005 but details of the settlement aren't available through court records. Williams, whose job at the jail was axed in February due to budget issues, isn't charged in the indictment but his personnel file has been seized by the FBI along with Hayes' records, according to Acting Cocke County Jail Administrator Andy Tritt, who replaced Michael McCarter after his resignation.

Hayes was first hired as a part-time jailer in 2002 and became a full-time corrections officer the next year. His brief career at the department included numerous write-ups and suspensions for not reporting absences, tardiness, disobeying a supervisor, and not properly logging the dispensing of medication in the jail. On June 4, 2003, Hayes was issued an employee's liquor license for West End Package store in Newport, but the permit wasn't renewed when it expired a year later. Hayes resigned from the Sheriff's Department in early 2004 and has since racked up a criminal record that includes charges of vehicular assault, DUI and shoplifting.

May 15: Former Deputy Christopher Smith is sentenced to three years of probation by Judge Greer. He will have to spend the first six months of his term on home detention with electronic monitoring when he's not at work and perform 250 hours of community service. Greer also orders him to pay $140 in restitution to Dustin Lee White. "The sad fact is, you don't need to be involved in law enforcement," Greer tells the former officer. Smith tearfully apologizes for his behavior, saying: "I made a mistake, I'm sorry. I let my family down." During the hearing, Greer asks Assistant U.S. Attorney Neil Smith if there was evidence of other misconduct. The prosecutor says he has information that there may have been a pattern of taking small amounts of money from drug traffickers during traffic stops "but we don't know of more serious incidents like this one." He also says the former deputy "came into the department as a young officer where he was exposed to a culture of corruption and felt there would be no consequences for certain behaviors. If he had been in another department, this may not have happened."

May 17: Assistant U.S. Attorney Neil Smith files written motions opposing Roach and Sheldon's bid for a new trial and to interview the jury foreman. According to Smith, the remarks made in closing arguments about the cell phone weren't improper because "it was clearly a reasonable inference that the defendants ... would have known of the cell phone, providing the reasonable and logical inference as why Mr. Hackett knew to question Mr. Gomez about the cell phone." Smith also says that a number of affidavits filed in support of the defense's motions "appear to be an attempt by the defense to deflect attention from the conduct of the defense." He adds: "The government strongly disagrees with Ms. Pierce's recollection of events ... However, those allegations are entirely irrelevant to the disposition of the motion. As George Bernard Shaw said, 'I learned long ago to never wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.' The government declines to wrestle."

May 22: Derrick Cureton, who is now 21, is sentenced by Judge Greer to two years in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release. Defense Attorney JoAnne Sheldon tells Greer that Cureton has recently been "menaced" by other individuals caught up in the Rose Thorn probe. Assistant U.S. Attorney Smith tells the judge that he, too, has received a report that Cureton has been "accosted" by Patrick Taylor. Greer suggests that Cureton may want to talk to federal agents about the incident, adding that the alleged behavior could be a basis for revoking Taylor's bond.

Chris Shults, 35, who has been repeatedly named as a government informant by defense attorney Herbert S. Moncier, appears before Judge Greer to plead guilty to a one-count information charging him with conspiring to possess and distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine between Aug. 2003 and Aug. 31, 2005. He is taken into custody by the U.S. Marshals Service pending sentencing. Although many details of the conspiracy aren't disclosed, court records state that Shults agreed to cooperate with authorities and told them that, for more than two years, he'd "received approximately one kilogram of cocaine every ten days from a co-conspirator ... for further distribution to various customers in Cocke County." Records also state that Shults was nabbed after an April 2005 search warrant was executed at the home of an unnamed co-conspirator who told authorities that he'd obtained five to seven kilograms of cocaine from Shults starting in November 2004. Shults' plea agreement was actually signed on Feb. 2 but was not filed with court, records show, and Moncier files a motion asking that prosecutors be barred from calling Shults as a witness against Michael Vassar. Moncier contends that he had previously requested information about "signed plea agreements" during pre-trial discovery proceedings but didn't learn about Shults' plea bargain until he appeared in court.

May 30: Dewey Lynn Phillips' plea agreement, which was signed February 3, is filed with the court. Phillips agrees to plead guilty to count one of the indictment and faces a minimum of ten years in prison. Michael Vassar's attorney, Herbert S. Moncier, files a motion asking that Phillips' be prevented from testifying against his client because of alleged discovery violations by federal prosecutors.

June 2: Judge Greer signs a forfeiture order awarding the Del Rio Cockfighting Pit to the federal government.

Greer refuses to grant Moncier’s request for sanctions against prosecutors or to ban Shults and Phillips from testifying.

June 12: A man whose roosters were killed during the June 11, 2005 raid on the Del Rio Cockfighting Pit in Cocke County files a lawsuit against the Humane Society of the United States in Cocke County Circuit Court. William Todd Webb of Sevierville is seeking $25,000 in compensatory damages and additional punitive damages to be "determined by a jury," according to the complaint. John Goodwin, the national Humane Society's deputy manager for animal fighting issues, is named as a defendant in the lawsuit along with "John Does one through twenty-five." Webb is one of at least six people who have opted to fight their misdemeanor cockfighting-related charges in court, according to one of his attorneys, Joe Baker.

"Whether cockfighting is right or wrong, and whether or not our client was involved in cockfighting, any person who has property in the United States is entitled to have that property protected and to have due process before the destruction of that property, especially by a private organization," Baker says. "We'd just like to see that justice is done."

Goodwin, who works in Washington, D.C., declines to comment on the lawsuit.

June 22: Michael Vassar is convicted of two cocaine offenses and Mike Gunter is acquitted of all charges following a seven-day trial in federal court in Greeneville. Vassar is convicted of selling 6.6 grams of cocaine to an undercover informant in a tape-recorded transaction. According to prosecutors, Vassar began conspiring with Stacy Lynn Phillips — who is the son of former Cocke County school bus driver Dewey Lynn Phillips — in the spring of 2003 to obtain multi-kilogram amounts of cocaine for distribution. "Vassar told Stacy Phillips on occasion that he was purchasing the cocaine for another individual whom Vassar would not identify," according to court records filed by federal prosecutors. In late 2003, Stacy Phillips turned his cocaine business over to his father "to include (his) sources of supply and his three main customers: Chris Shults, Mark Thornton, and Mike Vassar," prosecutors alleged. "Vassar continued to purchase multiple kilograms of cocaine from Lynn Phillips until Vassar's arrest on August 10, 2005. Vassar contacted Lynn Phillips from jail to advise that he had been arrested." The following week, Mike Gunter allegedly went to Dewey Lynn Phillips' home in Newport and purportedly made comments that led authorities to conclude he wanted to purchase cocaine from Phillips because "I can't get anymore" from Vassar. Phillips allegedly agreed to sell Gunter a kilogram of cocaine for $25,000 and Gunter brought him the cash that evening, prosecutors said. "The following morning, Phillips retrieved the kilogram of cocaine from a storage unit in Jefferson County and delivered the cocaine to Gunter at his residence," prosecutors said, and Phillips was arrested Aug. 25.

Gunter's attorneys, Wade Davies and Stephen Ross Johnson, filed a motion for acquittal during the trial which is rejected by Judge Greer. Gunter's attorneys argued that prosecutors had only produced two witnesses to testify as to Gunter's alleged involvement: Dewey Lynn Phillips and his wife, Patsy Phillips. The attorneys wrote that Dewey Phillips testified that he'd sold a kilogram of cocaine to Gunter but his wife had been unable to identify Gunter in the courtroom as the person who came their home the evening the alleged transaction was conducted. "Both Mr. and Mrs. Phillips' testimony were incredible," the motion said. "Mrs. Phillips' testimony was internally inconsistent, inconsistent with the testimony of Mr. Phillips, and inconsistent with the testimony of other witnesses."

Although Gunter has been acquitted of the purported conspiracy involving Vassar and others, he remains jailed pending his upcoming trial in the alleged cocaine conspiracy purportedly involving Harold Grooms, who hasn't been charged. Judge Greer orders Vassar to be taken into custody, pointing to federal guidelines which require that a defendant convicted of a drug offense carrying a sentence of more than 10 years be jailed unless there are extraordinary reasons for bond.

June 29: FBI Director Robert Mueller visits Knoxville and praises the skill of FBI field agents assigned to the East Tennessee region, taking particular note of their skill in rooting out public corruption. He mentions both the ongoing Tennessee Waltz investigation, which is focused on public cooperation among state legislators, and the Rose Thorn probe. "Certainly, public corruption is a number one priority for this division and divisions around the country," Mueller says. "It's a job the FBI does quite well. Public corruption and civil rights violations are two investigations we do best."

July 2: James Mark Thornton is sentenced to 327 months in prison by Judge Greer. Assistant Attorney Neil Smith argued in motions that Thornton's criminal history meant he was subject to a mandatory sentence of life in prison but recommended he be given a break due to his cooperation with authorities. Smith also notes that he doesn't necessarily believe that Thornton has told the whole truth, writing in a memo: "The information and assistance which Thornton provided appears to have been truthful, at least as to certain individuals, although the government still has concerns that Thornton has not been fully forthcoming with all information relating to criminal activities of others."

Former Cocke County Deputy John Wayne "Johnny" Black.

July 10: U.S. District Judge Ronnie Greer orders former Cocke County Deputy John Wayne "Johnny" Black to spend two years in federal prison for perjury and witness tampering. Greer tells Black that Cocke County has been tarnished by the lawman's actions and the federal officials running the Rose Thorn investigation have been doing their jobs ferreting out corruption. He does tell Black, however, that he can await the birth of his fifth child before reporting to prison.

"There are a lot of good people in Cocke County," says Greer, who as a state senator once represented the area. "While the recent events are necessary to restore public confidence, it's unfortunate that events revealed (as part of the probe) have tainted the reputation of those good people."

After a tearful tirade from Black, who accuses federal officials of unjustly taking away his career, Greer retorts: "The public has an absolute right to have confidence in law-enforcement officers and the court system. I did not expect you to come in here and say you're guilty of these offenses and say you're sorry. It does surprise me that I would hear you say ... 'They took my career. They took things from me' — 'they' apparently being the prosecutor involved, the law enforcement involved." Specifically citing the work of Assistant U.S. Attorney Neil Smith, who has headed up the corruption probe's prosecution effort, and FBI Special Agent Thomas Farrow, who has led the law enforcement end of the probe, Greer continues: "Neither one of them directed your activities. You made some choices ... some bad choices. It's simply unfair to blame them for what happened in your case or the other cases. They are doing their jobs. There's no fault to be placed on the government."

July 13: Former deputy John Wayne Black files notice through his new attorney, Robert B. Dickert, that he is appealing his conviction and sentence to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati, Ohio.

July 17: Albert Shepherd, 51, who has owned Newport Games on North Street in Newport since at least 1997, pleads guilty in federal court in Greeneville to a one-count information charging him with conducting an illegal gambling business in which five or more persons were involved. He faces up to five years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000 when he is sentenced in October, and the U.S. Attorney's Office has filed notice that it intends to seize any property used in the commission of gambling offenses. He is released on a $10,000 non-surety bond.

"In addition to legitimate amusement machines, Newport Games also placed video poker machines in over ten bars, restaurants, and markets in Cocke County and surrounding counties," according to court documents. "Shepherd, Jarrod Taylor, and others would visit the locations, usually weekly, to take the money from the machines and pay the premises owner/operator their share of the take. Surveillance by law enforcement agents began in 2002 and continuing through December 2004 confirmed that Shepherd, Taylor, and another employees would make such trips to ‘rob' the machines on a regular basis." After the Del Rio cockfighting raid, "many of the bars, restaurants, and markets asked Shepherd to remove the machines from their establishments," documents state. The businesses which purportedly housed the gambling machines aren't named in court records.

July 21: Assistant U.S. Attorney Neil Smith files a sentencing memorandum in Jarrod Taylor's case asking that the former Newport Games employee be sentenced to no less than six months of "community confinement, home detention with electronic monitoring, or a period of intermittent confinement. Such a sentencing would allow Taylor to maintain his employment (and his ability to pay a fine) while still providing just punishment and adequate deterrence." Smith notes that the law would allow for Taylor to be sentenced only to probation but argues that "because of Taylor's involvement not only in trafficking of stolen property but also his long-time involvement in an illegal gambling business, a sentence of ‘straight' probation ... would not an appropriate or reasonable sentence."

Taylor's attorney, Olen G. Haynes Jr., argues that probation is appropriate because he played a minor role in the stolen goods scheme. "Jarrod Taylor's involvement in the facts underlying the instant case was the result of a rather impromptu, albeit decidedly poor, decision," Haynes writes. "It is significant to note that Jarrod Taylor's involvement was not the product of careful reflection, nor was Jarrod Taylor critical to the success of the illegal activity." Haynes also attacks the mention of illegal gambling by Smith, stating that the gambling allegations are unrelated to the stolen goods charge. "The mere fact that Jarrod Taylor's green minivan was used to pick up the Nascar merchandise, and that this same van had a tracking device on it as part of an illegal gambling investigation, does not convert the illegal gambling investigation into relevant conduct for purposes of sentencing," Haynes wrote.

William T. Webb's lawsuit against the Humane Society of the United States over the destruction of his fighting cocks during the Del Rio raid is transferred to U.S. District Court in Greeneville after HSUS and John Goodwin argue that it should be heard at the federal level. In his reply to the allegations, HSUS official John Goodwin argues that he was "acting under the color and direction" of the FBI and U.S. Department of Agriculture and it was those agencies that made the decision to kill the roosters. According to papers filed by HSUS, Goodwin was at the raid "to observe whether the methods to be utilized to euthanize said fighting cocks were humane," court records show. HSUS also argues that it is "immune from this suit" because it was a federal contractor. (See Webb's lawsuit, Goodwin's affidavit and his reply to the lawsuit).

Aug. 10: Judge Greer rejects the motion for a new trial filed May 5 by Sgts. Sheldon and Roach. In a 15-page opinion, Greer rules that Assistant U.S. Attorney Smith hadn't acted improperly in discussing the cell phone used by the victims during his closing argument, hadn't knowingly introduced false testimony, and hadn't engaged in prosecutorial misconduct. (See Greer's ruling)

Aug. 21: Jarrod Taylor is sentenced to three years' probation following an emotional sentencing hearing before Judge Greer. Six months of that sentence will be spent on home confinement, Greer rules, although Taylor will be allowed to leave home to go to work or take part in pre-approved activities with his young daughter. Several members of Taylor's family — including his wife, Andrea and his brother, Patrick — are present in the courtroom. Some of Taylor's relatives weep as he reads his apology to the court, saying that he prays "every night for forgiveness of my mistakes." In a trembling voice, he apologizes to his family and says that, if it were possible, he would apologize to every person in Cocke County for "the embarrassments that I have caused."

Citing a presentence report and several letters written on Taylor's behalf, Greer says he believes the apologies to be sincere and describes Taylor as "a follower, not a leader, in this situation." On the other hand, he notes, Taylor's longstanding association with Newport Games shows that he wasn't someone who had consistently obeyed the law. "For several years now, your sole employment has been, at least in part, an illegal gambling enterprise," Greer says. "(But) you appear to have simply approached it as your job, through which you could provide for your family." Greer also says that, unlike the eight law enforcement officers who have been arrested in the Rose Thorn probe, Taylor didn't hold a position of public trust. "It was part of the culture to which you have been exposed," Greer says. "Primarily, it's because of the influence of your brother." Greer says he is especially mindful of Taylor's relationship with his daughter and suggests that Taylor should teach her that "loyalty to family and friends has a place in life" but that doesn't mean crossing over into illegal behavior. "I hope she will learn to make better decisions than you have," he says. "Put this incident behind you, pay your debt, and go on with your life in a productive way ... that provides a good example for your daughter."

Aug. 24: Former Cocke County jailer Darrell Hayes is acquitted by a jury in federal court in Greeneville following a two-day trial.

Sept. 8: Federal prosecutors accuse Patrick Taylor of taking part in "extensive criminal activities" and ask that he be sentenced to at least 3 years in prison for the stolen property offense. Although Taylor has only faced charges for the purchase of stolen NASCAR gear, Assistant U.S. Attorney Smith describes Taylor as a drug dealer-turned-cop who went on to commit extortion, run protection rackets, hatch robbery schemes and allow sheriff's department employees to use drugs.

Smith levels the allegations in a sentencing memorandum in which he argues that Taylor should be sentenced to more prison time than is presumably called for under federal guidelines. According to Smith, Taylor was a marijuana and cocaine dealer before joining the Cocke County Sheriff's Department in 1996. Also prior to donning the uniform of a deputy, Taylor worked for Lovell Amusements, a company that operated as a front for illegal video poker machines that were installed in bars and other businesses. Lovell Amusements later became Newport Games, Smith writes. Some of the bars where the machines operated were unlicensed, which made them ripe targets for an extortion racket once Taylor became chief deputy and he and his wife, Patricia Taylor, began operating West End Package Store in 2001. "Taylor would coerce the owners of the unlicensed bars to purchase their liquor through West End Package Store," Smith says. "Additionally, Taylor would reportedly warn bar owners of enforcement activities by other agencies, to include the Alcoholic Beverage Commission." Taylor also protected the Del Rio Cockfighting Pit, Smith says.

Under Taylor's direction, the sheriff's department became a safe haven for officers who used drugs, with Taylor even dishing out pills for those who were part of his inner circle. "Recorded conversations confirmed that Taylor would warn selected (department) employees of upcoming drug tests and provide them with illegal prescription drugs," Smith writes.

The memorandum also describes an abortive robbery plot that Taylor allegedly hatched with Dodgin in order to steal what they believed to be drug money. In the spring of 2005, the FBI and Tennessee Highway Patrol staged a traffic stop involving a purported drug courier who was carrying $300,000. "The undercover FBI agent, who had been posing as a member of a criminal organization, told Dodgin that a courier for a rival drug gang would be traveling on Interstate 40 through Newport," Smith states. "Taylor planned to rob the courier, but at the last minute decided to let Dodgin ‘tip off' a THP trooper to make a legitimate stop to test the reliability of the information. After the stop took place and THP seized the money, Taylor told Dodgin that ‘he wished he had taken a shot at it' and indicated that he and Dodgin would rob any such couriers in the future."

Taylor's entrepreneurial streak also extended to a "blooming onion" concession stand he operated at car shows, fairs and other events in the area. When Taylor and Dodgin bought the 236 pieces of purportedly stolen NASCAR merchandise in May 2005, he planned to sell the items through his concession business, Smith says.

Citing a report that hasn't been made public, Smith also claims that Taylor was involved in a "civil rights violations resulting in a victim beaten so severely he required reconstructive surgery." The alleged victim was Johnny E. Harrah, who filed a $1.1 million federal lawsuit against Taylor and several other sheriff's department officials in 1999. Harrah claimed that he had been beaten by Taylor when he was arrested during a purported domestic dispute. He also said he was later assaulted at the jail. In court filings, Harrah claimed the left side of his face and sinus cavity had been crushed. Harrah also argued that he signed a form at the jail asserting that he hadn't been injured by the officers "because I was afraid of being beaten to death while in the custody of the same officers" who had refused to give him medical attention. In late March 2001 (the same month that the FBI launched the "Rose Thorn" probe) U.S. Magistrate Dennis Inman dismissed Harrah's lawsuit after ruling that the form signed by Harrah effectively released the sheriff's department from liability. On Dec. 6, 2001, Harrah, age 45, was reported missing. Five weeks later, his corpse was found in the Pigeon River and an autopsy subsequently determined the cause of death was drowning, according to public statements made by Sheriff's Department Detective Bryan Murr, who is the son of former Constable Arlie Murr.

When contacted by phone about the sentencing memo, Taylor says he can't respond to the allegations because he hasn't seen them. His attorney, David Hill. is ill and has been unable to file a response to the government's accusations.

(See Taylor sentencing memo. Read "Ex-chief deputy's record extensive")

Sept. 11: Sgts. Roach and Sheldon are ordered to spend time behind bars by Judge Greer after sentencing hearings in Greeneville. Roach, 30, is sentenced to 10 months in prison to be followed by a year of supervised release, while Sgt. Patrick Sheldon, 34, is ordered to spend two months in jail and two years on probation. Both officers are ordered to pay $100 in restitution to the victim and complete 150 hours of community service. They are also prohibited from possessing firearms for the duration of their sentences. Greer describes their actions as a "frontal assault on our system of justice" and says that police officers should "set their standards higher than anyone else in society" because of the power they wield. "They represent, in effect, an assault upon our system of justice and the foundations of our democratic way of life in this country," Greer said.

Sheldon's sentencing hearing comes first, and defense attorney David Hill argues that he is a candidate for probation while pointing to his honorable record as a law enforcement officer. When Greer asks Sheldon if he wants to address the court, Sheldon replies that he respects the jury's decision and will respect Greer's ruling. Greer notes that today is the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and says the date is a reminder that there is a stark distinction between officers who uphold their duties and those who don't. The judge says it appears that Sheldon's motivation in lying about the traffic stop may have been loyalty to his fellow officer. He then compares Sheldon's actions to those of other Cocke County lawmen who have been prosecuted as part of the ongoing "Rose Thorn" corruption probe by saying that a "code of silence" appears to be part of the community's law enforcement culture. He then offers a blistering rebuke, saying: "Police officers do not look the other way. To do so is weak and even cowardly. ... To do so disqualifies one from wearing a badge." Greer also expresses alarm that Sheldon has expressed a desire to eventually continue his law enforcement career and imposes a special restriction that bars him from working in "a position of public trust" while on probation. When it comes Roach's turn to be sentenced, the officer declines to make a statement on his own behalf. Greer says he is especially disturbed by the fact that the victims were apparently targeted for their ethnicity or vulnerability as illegal immigrants. In addition to the 10-month prison term, Greer tells Roach that he, too, is barred from holding a position of public trust without the judge's permission but allows him to continue working as an EMT. Greer also says he is disturbed that neither of the officers has apologized or taken responsibility for their actions. "There has been no expression of remorse whatsoever," Greer said. Newport Police Chief Shults says he will consult with the city administrator before determining how the ruling will affect the officers' employment status.

(See sentencing memorandums in Roach/Sheldon case:

  • Defendents' sentencing memorandum in the case of Patrick James Sheldon

  • Statements of the case of Patrick James Sheldon and sentencing recommendation

  • United States' sentencing memorandum in the case of James Wendell Roach

  • Sentencing memorandum in the case of James Wendell Roach and Patrick James Sheldon )

    Patrick Taylor's sentencing hearing is reset to Oct. 2 after his attorney, David Hill, files motions explaining that he has been seriously ill.

    Sept. 19: Mike Gunter is convicted of conspiring to distribute and attempted possession with the intent to distribute more than 500 grams of cocaine after a six-day trial in federal court in Greeneville. Each offense carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years and a maximum prison term of 40 years. Gunter's sentencing hearing is set for Jan. 8. Curtis Banks, Bill Banks and Kenny Holt had entered guilty pleas before trial, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Neil Smith.

    Oct. 3: Former Newport Games operator Albert Shepherd files a motion in federal court asking that he be sentenced to probation although he has a guideline sentencing range of 6 to 12 months. Through his attorney, Kimberly Parton, Shepherd says he has been married since 1997 and is now employed as a contract employee doing automobile body work. "Due to the devastating impact of these charges on his life, marriage and career options, it is unlikely that Mr. Shepherd will engage in criminal conduct in the future," the motion states. "As a result of his charges, Mr. Shepherd has closed down his former business, Newport Games, and is no longer involved in the amusement/game industry." Shepherd, who has an 8th grade education, also points out that he wasn't involved with the Taylor brothers in the stolen goods conspiracy. "When confronted by authorities who were executing a search warrant at Newport Games, Mr. Shepherd admitted ownership of video poker machines found on the premises ... and consented to the search of a storage unit at a different location which contained video poker machines owned and stored by Newport Games," the motion says.

    Oct. 5: Newport Police Sgt. Patrick Sheldon files notice that he is appealing his conviction to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit along with James Roach Jr.

    Oct. 10: Patrick Taylor's attorney, David Hill, asks that Taylor be sentenced to no more than six months in prison. According to a sentencing memo filed by Hill, the stolen property conspiracy was the result of a "one-time sting operation" and Taylor's position as chief deputy "was completely separate" from his criminal conduct. "Being employed by the Cocke County Sheriff's Department is no basis for an upward departure based on the facts of this case because the defendant was not on duty and did not involve his employment in committing the offense," Hill writes. As for the numerous allegations lodged by the government concerning uncharged criminal acts, Hill states "there is nothing but hearsay and speculation to support the government's claim concerning defendant's alleged history of criminal conduct, and such alleged conduct is totally unrelated to the offense at issue." Taylor's sentencing hearing is now set for Oct. 23. (See Patrick Taylor's sentencing memo).

    Oct. 16: Assistant U.S. Attorney Neil Smith describes Michael Carl Vassar, who is in jail awaiting an Oct. 30 sentencing hearing, as a "hedonistic reprobate who has lived for years off his family and income from criminal conduct." Smith makes the comments in a sentencing memorandum in which he asks that Vassar be sentenced to a prison term of between 262 and 327 months. Smith recites highlights of Vassar's criminal history, including convictions for operating a chop shop operation, marijuana trafficking, fraud and other crimes. Smith points out that, in a 1992 hearing, an FBI testified that Vassar was "one of the most prolific, profitable, and long term activist in criminal enterprises in Cocke County" and a THP-CID agent testified that the participants in Vassar's chop shop operation "read like a 'who's who' of car thieves in Cocke County: Mike Gunter, Roger Gunter, Bobby O'Dell, Bobby Ramsey, Jack Shults, and David Graham." Smith also writes that U.S. District Judge Thomas Hull found that Vassar was the leader of a criminal enterprise and "had obstructed justice by threatening to kill a cooperating witness and by intimidating and suborning the perjury of a co-defendant." Vassar wasn't released from federal prison until October 1996, Smith says, and a little more than a year later he was caught with a stolen motorcycle with altered VINs. Vassar's supervised release was revoked and he ended up spending 10 more months in prison.

    In addition to outlining the purported cocaine conspiracy that Vassar was convicted of taking part in, Smith describes other alleged instances of Vassar's recent criminal activity. On April 18, 2002, a federal search warrant was executed at Vassar's garage next to his house on Golf Club Drive and agents allegedly recovered auto parts from vehicles stolen in Knoxville, Clinton, and Nashville as well as 16.8 grams of cocaine, Smith said. The agents also found an electronic control module from a Chevrolet truck that had been reported stolen in Hamblen County by "convicted cocaine trafficker and car thief Keith Hicks," Smith writes. "Hicks had purportedly purchased the truck as salvage from London Auto Sales, London, Kentucky, in November 2001. London Auto Sales has historically been the source of salvage vehicles used by chop shop in Cocke and surrounding counties for 'salvage switches,' replacing the VINs on stolen vehicles with those from salvage vehicles, and for insurance frauds."

    Smith concludes his motion with a plea to U.S. District Judge Greer to send Vassar to prison until he is in 80s, stating that "only a sentence of imprisonment which incarcerates Vassar for the rest of his life, or until he is no longer physically capable of engaging in criminal behavior, will adequately protect the public ... Mike Vassar has been part of the 'outlaw' element in Newport for over twenty years, an element which has done much to hurt the reputation of Cocke County. Vassar, through his connections to former Cocke County Chief Deputy Patrick Taylor and others, was able to engage in criminal conduct unmolested by local authorities. A sentence of over 20 years imprisonment will send a strong message that the days when such criminals could act with impunity in the community are over."

    (See government's sentencing memorandum for Michael Vassar)

    Oct. 17: Michael Vassar's attorney, Herbert S. Moncier, files a motion arguing that his client should receive an 8- to 14-month sentence. Smith and Moncier are at odds over a number of issues and are unable even to agree on what crime Vassar was convicted of. Moncier says the jury reached a "nonspecific verdict" and meant only to find Vassar guilty of conspiring to distribute the 6.6 grams of cocaine he sold in mid-2005. Smith, however, argues that Vassar was actually convicted of the larger conspiracy involving Dewey Lynn Phillips and others, which could add decades of prison time to his sentence because of the multi-kilogram amounts of cocaine involved. Moncier says the jury clearly rejected testimony that implicated Vassar in the Phillips conspiracy, arguing that if the jury had accepted their version of events, then Vassar would have been convicted of conspiring to traffic more than 500 grams. After the trial, Moncier sought unsuccessfully to question the jury foreman to remove any ambiguity about the verdict, but his efforts were rejected by Judge Greer, records show.

    Chief Deputy Patrick Taylor of the Cocke County Sheriff's Department, nephew of Sheriff Ramsey.

    Oct. 22: Several letters to Judge Greer are filed in support of Patrick Taylor, including one from Chairman Bill Costner of the Cocke County Leglislative Body (the county commission) and Patricia Taylor.

    Costner writes that he's known Taylor for "most of his life" and worked closely with him on financial issues concerning the sheriff's department. "He has always had great concern for his officers, making sure they had good equipment and vehicles they needed," Costner said. "Due to being under-paid, Pat was always trying to ask the Court to increase pay for all his officers. Pat is a young man that has made a mistake, and no one knows that more than him. I am sure Pat is not sorry for himself, but for the hurt he has caused his family, officers and his county. I hope as you consider your decision, you will put your trust in him as a good human being."

    Patricia Taylor says "the Pat Taylor that I have lived with all this time and the Pat Taylor the Federal Government has portrayed is a different person." She says that her husband "fully understands the magnitude of his mistake and the hurt and disappointment he has caused even to my parents that were called to testify before a Grand Jury against him. He has lost a career that he truly loved ... He went from a person that went to work each and every day to a person that did not get out of the house and gained 30 (pounds) the first 3 months. He is ashamed of what he has done, to lose the confidence of the people of Cocke County that believed in him and trusted in him." She concludes her letter by saying: "In my life's experience, the path through family life is riddled with mistakes, occasional terrors, and many blessings. And yes Pat is still a blessing in my life and has my full respect for being a man that will stand accountable for what he has done wrong."

    Oct. 23: Patrick Taylor's sentencing hearing commences with testimony from FBI Agent Thomas Farrow, who says the Rose Thorn probe was launched in March 2001. He says that federal authorities began compiling reports from informants and law enforcement officers outside of the county starting in late 2000 that portrayed the Cocke County Sheriff's Department as "basically a bed of corruption." Federal and state authorities have devoted immense resources to the probe, deploying seven FBI agents in undercover roles, tracking calls made to and from up to 30 phones numbers at one time, and compiling "hundreds and hundreds" of reports of criminal activity, he says. Farrow provides the following account of the elements of the Rose Thorn probe that have focused on Taylor:

  • Some of the earliest allegations implicating Taylor concerned video gambling machines and illegal liquor sales. The raids by the Tennessee Highway Patrol and state Alcoholic Beverage Commission, for instance, targeted beer joints that sold liquor without a license and also operated video gambling machines supplied by Newport Games. Some of the bar operators told state authorities that they had been warned to buy their liquor from West End Package Store in Newport or face the prospect of being raided by the sheriff's department. ABC officials were able to confirm that the liquor sold by "several, perhaps a majority of those" bars had been purchased from West End, according to Farrow.
  • Donald Poteat

  • Authorities compiled a list of businesses that operated gambling machines and tracked Jarrod Taylor's vehicle as he went through Cocke, Greene and Hawkins counties to service the devices, Farrow says. Albert Shepherd later told the FBI that he was never tipped off by Taylor about pending law enforcement actions but also said "law enforcement would just stay off of him."
  • Donald Poteat and Michael Maynard were both interviewed by the FBI, and during those discussions it was learned that Pat Taylor had tipped them off to the fact that the Humane Society had phoned in a complaint to the sheriff's department. Also, John Dale Ramsey allegedly operated a "miniature restaurant" at the Del Rio pit for "about a year," Farrow says.
  • By the time Larry Joe Dodgin had become a central figure in the probe in 2004 it was clear that he had a drug problem, was "completely out of control" and was committing civil rights violations such as "violence against defendants," the agent states.
  • THP Trooper Kevin Kimbrough was an "honest law enforcement officer portraying an honest law enforcement officer," Farrow says. Nonetheless, many corrupt officers were open with him about their dealings, the agent explains. "I couldn't believe they'd walk up to a trooper and say 'I've just done XYZ,' which is a felony," Farrow says.
  • Michael Maynard

  • Derrick Cureton provided a statement to the FBI in which he described being at Taylor's home after Dodgin's arrest. Cureton said that Patricia Taylor indicated "they were worried" about the NASCAR clothing, which had been stored at a relative's house. Cureton says the property was later burned, but during the June 2005 search of Thomas Grant Williams' home agents found one of the NASCAR jackets, which had been marked by the FBI prior to the sale. Farrows describes Williams as "a car thief, by his own admission, for Ray Hawk," and goes on to say that Hawk was running an auto theft operation. The agent also says that Williams initially cooperated with authorities in the early stages of Rose Thorn but has since chosen to stop working with the FBI.
  • Farrow concedes under cross-examination by Taylor's attorney, David Hill, that the allegation that Taylor interfered with drug screens might have come from a practical joke played on Dodgin by Taylor and Cureton. He also says that agents were never able to figure out how drug screens were allegedly being tampered with.
  • Farrow also says during cross-examination that he hadn't independently confirmed that Taylor once worked for Lovell Amusements. "I did not check his employment background, no," Farrow says.
  • Farrow never mentions D.C. Ramsey or Harold Grooms as being part of any criminal conspiracies involving Taylor.

    FBI Agent John Mule, who was the undercover agent who befriended Larry Joe Dodgin by posing as a Chicago gangster, describes wooing the deputy with a Rolex watch and provides details about the undercover sting. During questioning by Hill, he admits that he never met Taylor and dealt only with Dodgin. "I never had any conversation with Patrick Taylor about anything," he says.

    Hill, who is suffering from cancer, appears in court in a wheelchair and has to halt the proceedings several times so he can change his oxygen tanks. He seeks repeatedly to undermine the allegations lodged by Smith and Farrow, implying that many of them are the product of nothing more than rumors or speculation. He calls his investigator, Glen Almony, to the witness stand in order to introduce several witness statements in order to rebut some of the government's allegations. Two statements, for instance, are from bar operators who had allegedly told state authorities that they had been told to buy their liquor from West End or risk being shut down. The witnesses now say, however, that they never accused Taylor of extortion. Assistant U.S. Attorney Neil Smith points out that Almony's brother was once arrested for drug dealing , but the charges were dropped. Almony denies that he ever sold drugs but concedes that he has a pending domestic violence charge in Cocke County. Smith also questions Almony about whether his testimony poses a conflict of interest since he also works for the Cocke County Public Defender's Office and represents clients who have been arrested by the sheriff's department. When asked if he has a potential conflict, Almony replies: "That's to be determined, sir."

    Judge Greer indicates several times that he wants to have more proof of the allegations against Taylor. The two FBI agents repeatedly discussed intercepted phone calls involving Taylor and secret recordings made during the investigation, and Greer says: "I'm going to want to hear those recordings."

    Greer says he has a prior engagement and ends the hearing at 1 p.m. He says he will again take up the case Nov. 9.

    Outside the courtroom, Patrick Taylor says he can't discuss the allegations because he has signed an agreement with the government that prohibits him from discussing the case prior to its resolution. (Read the "Hearing transcript Pt. 1, Pt. 2, Pt. 3."

    Oct. 23: Albert Shepherd is sentenced to 30 days in jail, six months of home detention with electronic monitoring and four years of probation by Judge Greer. He is also fined $2,000. During the hearing, which takes place immediately before Patrick Taylor's case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Neil Smith tells Greer that the government thinks probation would be appropriate because of Shepherd's cooperation. Greer, however, says he is troubled by the recommendation because "the illegal conduct was widespread and carried on over a long period of time." Shepherd says that local law enforcement largely ignored his operation and goes on to say that he sold all his equipment for about $30,000 "a few months ago." Greer warns Shepherd to abide by the terms of his probation, and Shepherd replies: "I can promise you that you'll never see me again."

    Nov. 17: U.S. District Judge Greer orders prominent Knoxville defense attorney Herbert S. Moncier jailed briefly for allegedly causing a ruckus during a hearing for Michael Vassar. Although Greer later allows Moncier to be freed on bail, Greer slaps him with a criminal contempt of court charge and sets a Dec. 11 hearing. "It is hereby ordered that Herbert Moncier shall show cause as to why he should not be held in criminal contempt of court committed in its presence and punished to the full extent of the law," Greer writes in his order. Greer allows attorneys Ralph Harwell and John Rogers to appear on the defense attorney's behalf. Greer also removes Moncier from Vassar's case and instead appoints the drug dealer a new attorney, Clifton Corker.

    The dispute between Moncier and Greer is only the most recent to surface during Vassar's case, which has seen the filing of several hundred motions and prompted repeated admonitions from Greer. Moncier has sought to subpoena large quantities of information from law enforcement agencies throughout Upper East Tennessee and has repeatedly argued that the government's case was built largely upon lies and perjured testimony. In the run-up to today's sentencing hearing, Moncier filed so many motions that Greer imposed an order barring the filing of any more without court approval, but Moncier filed more motions anyway. As the sentencing hearing gets under way, Greer orders a behind-closed-doors hearing known as an "in-camera inspection" in which a judge reviews potential evidence in a case and decides how much of it should be revealed either to attorneys or the public. Moncier runs afoul of the judge during this hearing and is accused of — among other things — repeatedly interrupting Greer, speaking in a loud, belligerent tone and refusing to heed any of the judge's instructions. Greer then imposes what is known as a summary contempt charge. Moncier doesn't return a call seeking comment and Assistant U.S. Attorney Neil Smith declines to comment. Greer cannot, under court rules, comment on the case so the exact nature of Moncier's alleged misbehavior is not known.

    The rare move by Greer comes just days after Moncier wound up in a verbal dispute with employees at a McDonald's on Cumberland Avenue in Knoxville over his lengthy wait in the drive-through and the eatery manager's response to his demands for a refund. Moncier's behavior was, in the view of at least one customer stuck in the same drive-through, so outrageous that the customer called police. Moncier himself later acknowledged that he reacted badly when he stormed into the restaurant and, according to the Knoxville Police Department, twice went behind the counter. An employee, Justin Tamper, later filed an assault charge against Moncier, alleging the attorney elbowed him when Tamper tried to grab back a paper the attorney had snatched from a counter to record a customer service number. Moncier denies the charge.

    Nov. 28: Patrick Taylor is sentenced to two years in federal prison by Judge Greer. The former officer is also ordered to spend three years on supervised release and forbidden from ever again holding a position of public trust.

    "Very simply put, Mr. Taylor, a message needs to be sent," Greer tells Taylor. "Honorable_law enforcement officers who uphold the law every day and lay their lives on the line every day deserve our respect and our honor every day. Those who violate the very law they are sworn to uphold deserve swift and certain punishment." Greer says that Taylor not only tarnished his own badge but also corrupted other officers. "You were the second highest law enforcement officer in Cocke County," Greer says. "You also had a position that required you to set the example for other officers. ... I can come to no other conclusion than corruption at the top leads to corruption within the ranks. Your conduct encouraged a lack of respect for the law."

    Assistant U.S. Attorney Neil Smith tells Greer that Taylor regularly fenced stolen loot. Smith also accuses the ex-lawman of all manner of corruption, including crimes involving "narcotics, illegal gambling, alcohol violations, possibly even civil-rights violations."

    "Mr. Taylor's presence in the sheriff's department in Cocke County was (akin to) bringing a poison, a cancer into an organism," Smith says. "It affected even those law enforcement officers who wanted to do the right thing." Defense attorney David Hill, however, counters that the allegations are big talk for a prosecutor with no proof to back it up. "There's no proof Mr. Taylor did anything to force (other officers) into engaging in any criminal conduct," Hill argues. "I think it's a case where the government is trying to say the chief was involved in a lot more than he actually was involved in." But Greer sides with Smith, saying: "The suggestion of other criminal activities fills this record. I subscribe to the theory where there's smoke, there's fire."

    Taylor, whose wife and a handful of other relatives are on hand for the hearing, apologizes to his family and Greer. He also offers up a conciliatory message for the citizens he was hired to protect and serve. "I'd especially like to say I am sorry to all the citizens of Cocke County," he says. "I pray I will be forgiven for my actions. I just want to put this behind me and get on with my life."

    Greer allows Taylor to report to prison on his own — provided he obeys the law and doesn't bother any witnesses in the corruption probe. "Any conduct that could be construed as retaliatory will be viewed as a violation of federal law," the judge says.

    Smith, as chief prosecutor of Cocke County's corrupt cops, offers up a defense of the innocent in the scarred community, contending that although law enforcers like Taylor made it easy for good officers to go bad, few did. "They looked to the top and saw this culture, this atmosphere of corruption in their department (that was) almost expected," Smith says. "Luckily, only a few (succumbed to it)."

    Jan. 8, 2007: Former school bus driver Dewey Lynn Phillips is sentenced to 72 months in prison and five years of supervised release by U.S. District Judge Ronnie Greer. He also forfeits $80,000 in cash seized during the investigation. Newport Mayor Connie Ball and Jim McNabb, supervisor of transportation for the Cocke County school system, testify on Phillips’ behalf, according to court records.

    Jan. 19, 2007: Jason Grooms is arrested by THP Trooper Kevin Kimbrough after he is pulled over on Interstate 40 in Cocke County for speeding about 10:15 p.m. Grooms, who is driving a 2002 Chevrolet Suburban with dealer tags, is allegedly nervous and behaving in a suspicious manner. A search of the truck allegedly turns up an estimated ten grams of marijuana and a glass pipe. Grooms is charged with possession of marijuana, a misdemeanor.

    Donald Poteat

    Jan. 22, 2007: Donald and Donna Poteat appear in federal court in Greeneville along with Michael Maynard to plead guilty to charges arising from the Del Rio Cockfighting Pit. Donald Poteat and Maynard plead guilty to conducting an illegal gambling operation, a felony that carries a potential 5-year prison term, as well as misdemeanor charges of sponsoring or exhibiting animals in an animal fighting venture. Donna Poteat pleads guilty only to the misdemeanor charge. They are released from custody without having to post bond and are scheduled to return to Greeneville for sentencing in May.

    Kenneth Frazier

    Feb. 1: Jason Grooms resigns from his state job. In a letter to Commissioner Kisber, he writes: “I would like to say thank you for the opportunity to be a part of the team at ECD. In light of all the publicity of recent events I feel like I must defend myself. I assure that I am innocent of the charges (except for speeding). I feel like at this time must resign as a economic development specialist. I would like my resignation to be effective Feb. 1, 2007.”

    Feb. 2, 2007: Newport Police Chief Maurice Shults is placed on paid leave pending an outside investigation due to "numerous" complaints from officers in the department who claimed that Shults had harassed them, Mayor Connie Ball says. "In all fairness to Chief Shults and the department, we thought it would be best to have an independent agency come in and look at the situation," he says. Shults makes no public comment on the allegations, and Ball says he expects to call in the University of Tennessee's Municipal Technical Advisory Service to investigate the complaints.

    Michael Maynard

    Assistant Chief Don Ball, who was first hired by the department in 1965 and eventually worked his way up through the ranks to become chief investigator, temporarily assumes Shults’ duties. Records show that Ball joined the now-defunct Eagles club in Del Rio on Feb. 17, 2000.

    Allen Frazier

    Feb. 8, 2007: Kenneth R. Frazier, 64; his brother Allen Eugene Frazier, 60; George Ray Hicks, 69, and Ernest Arrowood Jr., 67, are arrested on a criminal complaint with conducting an illegal gambling business and sponsoring or exhibiting gamecocks in an animal fighting venture. The complaint, which was filed by FBI Agent Thomas Farrow, alleges that Kenneth Frazier owned the pit and the other men helped operate it. The suspects are arrested by FBI agents with assistance from state troopers and the Cocke County Sheriff’s Department, marking the first time that local deputies have publicly assisted the FBI during the probe.

    Feb. 12, 2007:  Michael Vassar is sentenced to 12 years in prison following a hearing before U.S. District Judge Ronnie Greer. Attorney Herbert S. Moncier, who has been allowed back onto the case, argues vehemently that his client is the victim of unethical tactics by federal prosecutors. Neither Greer nor Moncier mentions the contempt charge during the hours-long hearing. In fact, Greer seems to ignore his own order limiting arguments to 30 minutes per side, allowing Moncier to argue, at one point, for more than an hour during one phase of the multitiered sentencing process.

    Moncier spends most of that time airing a complaint he has long made that federal prosecutors are "manipulating" the system via the plea-bargaining process. Moncier contends that Smith cut a slew of deals in Vassar's case, allowing, for instance, a guy pushing dozens of pounds of cocaine to walk away with 76 months in prison, while Vassar, convicted of peddling far less of the drug, was staring at a minimum 168-month prison term. "What the government has done is manipulate the guideline sentences," Moncier says. "If the government is manipulating the guidelines then the guidelines become meaningless and that completely destroys what Congress intended." The way Moncier sees it, prosecutors cut deals with drug dealers in which they are sentenced based on far less drugs than they actually peddled to get them to snitch on others. Then, they offer up breaks for that snitch work, Moncier argues. Folks like Vassar, who refuse to plead guilty or cooperate, wind up facing much heftier prison terms because no such deals are offered, the attorney says.

    George Hicks

    Judge Greer, however, is quick to counter that there’s nothing illegal or improper with the deal-making process. “Plea bargaining is a fact of life," Greer says. "As distasteful as it may be at times, it's an everyday factor in law enforcement." He also says that Vassar, with more than a dozen felony convictions under his belt, has earned his 12-year prison term. "Here you are again," Greer says to Vassar. "Two prior (federal) prison terms did not deter you. Your attorney is asking me to compare apples to oranges to the extent the government's plea bargaining decisions result in (sentencing) disparities, it seems to me, that's up to Congress and the public to address."

    Feb. 15, 2007: An indictment is unsealed in federal court in Greeneville charging Kenneth R. Frazier, Allen Eugene Frazier, George Hicks and Ernest Arrowood Jr. with operating an illegal gambling enterprise and transporting animals for fighting ventures. 

    March 13, 2007: A superseding indictment is returned adding a new defendant, James William Russell, age unavailable, to the case involving the 440 Cockfight Pit. Russell, who faces the same charges as the other four defendants, is released on his own recognizance by U.S. Magistrate Judge Dennis Inman.

    March 15, 2007: Newport Police Chief Maurice Shults is demoted to the rank of lieutenant by a unanimous vote of Newport city council. The unanimous vote came about due to allegations of a "lack of leadership" in the department, says City Attorney Terry Hurst. Shults says he plans to appeal the decision to the Civil Service Board.

    Ernest Arrowood

    The state Municipal Technical Advisory Service, which interviewed 35 people in its investigation of Shults, said in its report that the allegations against Shults were "secured in a manner that is inconsistent" with the city’s charter and personnel policy. The mayor and council should adhere to their own policies, the report said, and if they "want to institute different policies and procedures, they have the ability to do so." The report said that Mayor Ball had solicited two complaints against the chief and held one of them "for more than two months before it was disclosed to anyone." "It improper for a supervisor to intimidate an employee," the MTAS report said. "It is just as improper for an elected official to coerce an employee to file a negative statement on a supervisor." On the other hand, the report noted that Shults is known for having a rough tempter. "His outbursts are legendary," the report said. "Most employees state they avoid going to the station because 'you never know what is going to send him off’." Hurst says the city requested a subsequent opinion from MTAS as to whether council members could demote Shults without bringing charges against him and was told they could. Assistant Chief Don Ball will remain acting chief while the Civil Service Board interviews candidates for the slot, Hurst says.

    March 28: Erwin Shane Stamper, 25, the former stepson of Harold Grooms, is arrested in Newport for allegedly trafficking in cocaine. His girlfriend, Katie Jayne Egert, 26, is arrested the following day at the federal courthouse in Greeneville when she shows up to attend Stamper's initial appearance. They are named in an eight-count indictment charging them with cocaine trafficking offenses. Egert is released on a $10,000 bond, but Stamper is held without bond because he was on supervised release for a 2001 drug conspiracy, records show. In 2001, Stamper became one of the first people arrested in the Rose Thorn probe when he and two other men were caught delivering two pounds of cocaine to an undercover FBI agent. He was sentenced to 63 months in prison to be followed by four years of supervised release, but federal prosecutors allege that within six weeks of his release, he and Egert were involved in a cocaine conspiracy that lasted from May 1, 2006, to Nov. 14, when a sealed indictment was returned by a federal grand jury. It's not clear why Stamper and Egert weren't arrested when the indictment was first returned and Assistant U.S. Attorney Neil Smith declines to comment.

    March 30: New U.S. Rep. David Davis of East Tennessee is the only Tennessee House member who opposes a bill to increase the crime's federal penalty from a misdemeanor to a felony. Each state should decide the punishment for involvement in illegal rooster fights, Davis, R-Johnson City, says in an interview. A misdemeanor cockfighting-_related offense often results in a minor fine, while a felony can net three years in prison and fines. A bill pending in the Tennessee General Assembly would boost the offense to a felony. "I personally have a problem with the federal government coming in and overseeing what the states do" about cockfighting, Davis says. Also, he says calls and e-mails to his office on the felony penalty bill were about 20-1 against. Davis, who was elected in November, says he is aware of reports about the 2005 raid in Del Rio, which is in his district. Bills in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate would make it a felony, rather than the current misdemeanor offense, for interstate transportation of any animals for fighting purposes or transporting cockfighting weapons — the sharp blades attached to birds' legs. The House bill passed March 26 by 368-39 vote. Davis was the only Tennessee opponent; Reps. Zach Wamp, R-Chattanooga, and Bart Gordon, D-Murfreesboro, were absent.

    The Humane Society of the United States has lobbied for several years to pass the stronger penalty and the Senate may pass a similar bill soon. Humane Society President Wayne Pacelle says it "was disappointing" to see Davis vote against the bill. "The Cocke County experience is one of the best examples of why a federal law is needed," Pacelle says. "It was a regional magnet drawing cockfighters from several surrounding states. There was public corruption involved. If you have a misdemeanor, rather than a felony offense, you become a magnet for interstate trafficking."

    The state's other new House member, Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, spoke on the House floor recently in strong support of the felony penalty to deter animal fights and related gambling. "This type of conduct leads to other types of harmful conduct and violence against women, violence against seniors," Cohen said. "People who enjoy this type of violence ... are more often than not going to be the most likely people to pick on others who are unable to take care of themselves."

    April 4: U.S. Magistrate Judge Dennis Inman listens to arguments over the indictments leveled in connection with 440 pit, including a debate as to whether cockfighting is a game of skill or chance. Defense attorney Robert Jessee argues that cockfighting isn't a form of gambling under state law. If it is, he argues, sports such as professional boxing — or even football — may run afoul of Tennessee's hard-nosed anti-gambling statutes. "Cockfighting is considered a sport, whether you believe it or disagree that it is. (Tennessee's law) says nothing about sporting events; it says nothing about cockfighting," Jesse says, accusing the government of "trying to bootstrap" an animal cruelty case "into a federal felony." Jessee argues that Tennessee law covers only lotteries, gambling machines and casino-type games. In fact, he suggests, if cockfighting is illegal gambling, then so are boxing matches where human opponents fight for a purse. "(Gamecocks) are like athletes," he said. "People know which ones are good and which ones are bad."

    In boxing, Inman notes, two people "are trying to beat the brains out of the other" for a sizeable purse. He then asks how that scenario differs from a cockfight. Assistant U.S. Attorney Neil Smith says a series of Tennessee court decisions that began in the 1840s define cockfighting as gambling and that state law favors the position that it's a game of chance rather than skill. Smith also notes the defendants wouldn't face the prospect of prison time had there been "no purse to be won, no bets to be placed" at the defendants' 440 Cockfight Pit. But Jessee — who is Arrowood's attorney — argued on behalf of all the defendants that cockfighting is a sport governed by animal cruelty statutes, not anti-gambling laws.

    Inman takes the issue under advisement and will issue a ruling later.

    April 5: U.S. Magistrate Judge Inman rules that cockfighting is a form of illegal gambling under state law, setting back a request by the five Cocke County defendants to have their gambling indictment dismissed. Inman writes that cockfighting is defined specifically under Tennessee law as a form of gambling.

    May 3: The Del Rio Cockfighting Pit is sold for $68,882 in an online auction for the U.S. Marshals Service. The identity of the purchaser isn't available, but the Del Rio Cockfighting Pit's buyer must sign a purchase agreement within 24 hours and must also complete the transaction within 30 days, according to the auction's Web site.

    The pit's sale comes on the same day President Bush signed into law a bill that makes it a felony to take part in interstate or foreign animal fighting and makes it illegal to traffic in cockfighting weapons such as metal gaffes.

    May 15: Maurice Shults is reinstated to the post of Newport police chief after a successful appeal to the Civil Service Board, which votes 2-1 to end the actions taken against him. "I'm looking forward to coming back and serving," he says. "My lifelong career goal is to serve the people of Newport in law enforcement, and I'm here to do that job." City Administrator Brad Moffitt later says he was "somewhat" surprised by the board's decision. He also says the board recommended that Shults receive back pay and the city hasn't decided whether to appeal the board's decision.

    May 21: An old building in Newport that was converted into an illegal gambling hall is raided by state and local authorities, says Cocke County District Attorney Jimmy Dunn. When state troopers, Newport police officers and TBI agents burst into the The Sportsman's Club about 9:30 p.m., they find approximately 50 people taking part in illegal poker tournaments, says District Attorney General Jimmy Dunn. "It's just like what you'd see on TV," Dunn says. "They had several tables and they were playing Texas Hold'em at the different tables. They had five dealers; the tables were full." Cash, guns, and assorted types of gambling paraphernalia were seized from the property at 571 West Broadway, which is in the West End section of Newport.  Although the club doesn't have a liquor license, authorities find two cases "of taxed whiskey, unopened," Dunn says. It isn't immediately clear who owns the club, but investigators are checking property records. "It's only been in business for a couple of years," Dunn says. "It used to be an old bank branch, but they took it over and remodeled it." None of the people found inside the club are arrested, but Dunn says he plans to present evidence to a Cocke County grand jury in July.

    June 8: Stacey Lynn Phillips pleads guilty in federal court to cocaine trafficking. According to court records, the conspiracy took place in 2003 and involved Christopher Shults, James Mark Thornton and Mike Vassar. “Prior to Stacey Phillips agreeing to cooperate with law enforcement agents on August 30, 2005, Phillips’ co-conspirators, specifically Thornton and Shults, had already informed law enforcement agents that they had obtained between 5 and 15 kilograms of cocaine from Phillips in 2003,” records say. 

    June 13: Erwin Shane Stamper agrees to plead guilty to one count of the indictment, charging him with conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute cocaine. Katie Eger has already entered into a plea agreement with federal prosecutors.

    June 17: Newport police seize four illegal gambling machines from a bar on West Broadway along with nearly $1,300 in cash. The machines are discovered when officers ask to do a walk-through at Sandra’s Bar on West Broadway and the bartender, Trudy Green, gave them permission to check the establishment, Police Chief Maurice Shults says. The officers find a back room partitioned off with a curtain, and inside the room they find people playing four video gambling machines. The bar’s owner comes to the scene and helps the officers secure the machines. The bartender is the only person cited because “she was the one who was there when it happened,” Shults says.  When asked if police have determined where the machines seized Sunday came from, Shults replied: “That’s under investigation.”

    July 12: Glen Almany, investigator for the Cocke ­ County Public Defender’s Office, and Jason Grooms are among five people arrested on state indictments returned by a Cocke Country grand jury.  Almany is accused of operating the Sportsman’s Club along with his brother, Lee Emory Almany. Each brother faces multiple counts of aggravated gambling promotion, a felony, as does Penny Louise Gates, who is described by District Attorney Jimmy Dunn as an employee. Also indicted is Jason Grooms, who is still facing a marijuana charge from the January 19 traffic stop. Grooms, who allegedly worked as a dealer, is charged with one count of gambling promotion, a misdemeanor. His status as a state employee isn’t immediately clear. Rhonda Crum, who also was an employee of the club, is charged with five counts of gambling promotion. 

    Dunn says that several additional suspects were indicted in connection with the probe into the club and their names will be made public once they’ve been arrested.

    J.J. Stambaugh may be reached at (865)342-6307. His email address is stambaugh@knews.com.

    Online editor Jigsha Desai helped with the web production. She may be reached at desaij@knews.com.

    SOURCES: Staff reports; Cocke County Sheriff's Department; Newport Police Department; U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Tennessee; U.S. Attorney's Office; FBI; Tennessee Bureau of Investigation; Tennessee Highway Patrol; Cocke County Circuit Court; Cocke County General Sessions Court; Cocke County Clerk; Cocke County Property Assessor; Cocke County Trustee; Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission; Knoxville Police Department; Knox County Sheriff's Office; Knox County Criminal Court; Knox County District Attorney General's Office; Blount County Sheriff's Office; the Office of the Governor of Tennessee; Tennessee Registry of Election Finance; State of Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury; state Department of Personnel; Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development; Fourth Judicial District Attorney General's Office; Cocke County Election Commission; Cocke County Mayor's Office; Humane Society of the United States; United Gamefowl Breeders Association; the Fraternal Order of Eagles; the Associated Press; Tennessee Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Commission.