Indictment of Pilot Flying J ex-president, 7 others, unsealed

From the News Sentinel:
After approving an expansion of scheme to defraud small trucking companies of promised diesel fuel rebates, former Pilot Flying J President Mark Hazelwood made a prediction, according to an indictment unsealed Tuesday.

“We’re all going to be winners for 2013,” the indictment quotes Hazelwood telling sales managers at a November 2012 meeting in which he was secretly recorded.

Hazelwood was arraigned Tuesday on charges including conspiracy to commit wire fraud and mail fraud as well as witness tampering in a nearly three-year investigation.

Seven other Pilot employees were named in the 14-count indictment. All eight are accused in the conspiracy count and nine specific charges of wire fraud.

Hazelwood faces an additional charge of witness tampering.

Former Pilot vice president of direct sales Scott Wombold is also charged with three counts of lying to agents with the FBI and IRS Criminal Investigation Division.

Ten former Pilot employees have already pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing.

In addition to Hazelwood and Wombold, the following former Pilot employees are named in the indictment: John Freeman, who was vice president of sales and who has been identified in an FBI affidavit as the architect of the fuel rebate scheme; Vicki Borden, who supervised various sales support staff; sales representatives Katy Bibee, Heather Jones and Karen Mann; and John Spiewak, who is listed as a former regional sales manager.

Deer poachers get TWRA record penalty

Two La Vergne men have been banned from hunting for life in Tennessee and 43 other stats for illegally killing as many as 40 deer, reports The Tennessean. They also allegedly took photos and videos of dead or wounded animals being abused.

Densibel Calzada, 23, and Eddy Albert, 21, received the harshest penalty ever issued by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.

“We will never know how many deer these two killed, but we believe they could have poached at least 40,” said TWRA Sgt. Matt Brian. “We charged them with violations based on the strongest evidence we found showing the seriousness of their poaching crimes.”

Search warrants served by TWRA officers on Calzada and Albert’s homes produced cell phones where photos and videos were found of the two disrespecting the animals they had poached.

“They were getting on top of the deer and doing all sorts of things,” said TWRA information officer Doug Markham. “They had one where the deer was still alive and they blew his head off. They were high-fiving each other after showing the hole where they had shot one at nighttime. I didn’t see all of the videos, but the officer said some of it was just really grotesque.”

…Along with the lifetime ban, they also were ordered to pay $1,000 each in court costs, $5,000 in restitution, had their weapons — a rifle and a crossbow — confiscated, must perform 100 hours of community service for the TWRA and were placed on 18 months probation.

“People don’t understand what banning them for life does to them,” Markham said. “It destroys their ability to move around with a gun. If they get caught again, they could go to jail.”

Sixth GOP candidate files in 8th Congressional District

Ken Atkins, a corrections officer and former car dealership owner from Fayette County, is the latest Republican to file a qualifying petition for the 8th Congressional District seat being vacated by Rep. Stephen Fincher, reports the Commercial Appeal.

Atkins described himself as a conservative and said he was running to bring jobs to West Tennessee, cut spending in Washington and support law enforcement.

“I’ve never been a politician. My whole life I’ve been living and breathing politics,” he said.

His entry brings the Republican field to six. State Sen. Brian Kelsey, former U.S. Attorney David Kustoff, Shelby County Register of Deeds Tom Leatherwood, Shelby County Commissioner Steve Basar and Memphis radiologist George Flinn have filed or announced their intention to seek the office.

Senate spurns resolution honoring La Raza chair

Most Senate Republicans refused to vote one way or the other Monday on a resolution honoring Renata Soto, a Nashville woman who chairs the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic civil rights group.

HJR506 had passed the House 66-10-4 earlier after some delay and controversy. On the Senate floor, it got just nine yes votes and six yes votes. The rest would take no position and, since 17 votes are needed for passage, the resolution failed.

The group refusing to vote included Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, notes WPLN.

He said he has no problem with Soto, but many GOP senators take issue with La Raza, particularly its advocacy for undocumented immigrants. Norris cited one protest in particular.

“An event one day last year where illegal aliens were encouraged not to show up for work, and that sort of thing. And it was just more than some of my members could take,” he said.

Norris was referring to the Day Without An Immigrant walkouts in 2006. La Raza was not an official organizer of those protests, but Soto was quoted in a local newspaper article as supporting the event.

Norris said he asked the resolution’s Senate sponsor, Nashville Democrat Jeff Yarbro, to remove references to La Raza.

Yarbro declined, saying Soto and La Raza are no more controversial than others who’ve been honored by the state legislature. He cited the Eagle Forum, the NAACP and the Anti-Defamation League as examples.

Note: Democratic sponsors press release below.
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Rocky Top lawsuit settled

ROCKY TOP, Tenn. (AP) — The city of Rocky Top has settled a lawsuit with the copyright holders of the bluegrass song the town is named after.

Rocky Top changed its name from Lake City in 2014 after developers promised the new name would entice them to build a massive tourist complex in the former coal mining town of about 1,800 people.

The idea was that visitors would associate the town with the popular bluegrass standard that declares, “Rocky Top, you’ll always be home, sweet home, to me. Good ol’ Rocky Top. Rocky Top, Tennessee.”

That plan didn’t sit well with House of Bryant Publications, which owns trademarks for the use of the name Rocky Top on everything from T-shirts and baseball caps to baby blankets and Christmas ornaments.

Last month, the city of Rocky Top and House of Bryant agreed to a settlement in which the city can use Rocky Top trademarks for noncommercial purposes only — such as in support of the fire department or library.

Attorney Nathan Rowell represented the city. He said Rocky Top could sell trademarked items, as long as any money raised went to the city.

A separate settlement with the development group that proposed the tourist complex, Rocky Top Tennessee Marketing and Manufacturing, is still under negotiation.

The development group includes current Rocky Top Mayor Michael Lovely and Anderson County Commissioner Tim Isbel, who said he couldn’t comment on the status of the tourist development because of the lawsuit.

He said an announcement would be forthcoming soon and characterized the negotiations as “positive.”

The 2014 name change was the second time the former coal mining town changed its name in an attempt to change its fortunes. Rocky Top was called Coal Creek until the 1930s. Then town officials decided to call it Lake City to capitalize on their proximity to Norris Lake. Despite the name, there was no lake in Lake City.

House voucher vote delayed until Thursday

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Proponents of a creating a limited school voucher program in Tennessee first feared that snow flurries would keep enough supporters from arriving for a House floor vote Monday.

But it ended up being an avalanche of proposed amendments — including a last-minute change proposed by the bill’s main sponsor — that caused Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, to put the vote off until later in the week.

Dunn told colleagues before the floor session that he now only wants the bill to apply to the state’s four largest counties: Shelby, Davidson, Knox and Hamilton. But he said he wants to take a more comprehensive approach to finding a version that can pass “instead of taking up 22 amendments.”

Even Dunn’s normally routine motion to delay the vote illustrated how closely divided the House is on the measure. It received just 51 votes — or two more than the minimum to be adopted.
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Durham committee gives AG subpoena power

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A special House committee has voted to designate Tennessee’s attorney general to investigate sexual harassment allegations against Republican state Rep. Jeremy Durham.

The panel voted 4-0 on Monday to give Attorney General Herbert Slatery’s office subpoena power for an investigation into “allegations of disorderly and inappropriate behavior” by the second-term Republican from Franklin.

Durham has denied any wrongdoing. The lawmaker has stepped down as House majority whip and later withdrew from Republican caucus. He is currently taking a hiatus from the Legislature while seeking medical and religious guidance.

House Speaker Beth Harwell, Gov. Bill Haslam, Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey and state Republican Party Chairman Ryan Haynes have all called for the Durham’s resignation.

Computer crash halts TNReady online tests — back to paper & pen

By Shelia Burke, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee education officials say they no longer have faith that a brand new education assessment test known as TNReady can be administered online after a series of computer glitches, including one Monday that forced school officials across the state to halt testing on the first day of its rollout.

State Education Commissioner Candice McQueen sent an email Monday afternoon to school directors across the state saying she is no longer confident in vendor Measurement Inc.’s ability to administer the test online consistently without it crashing. As a result, McQueen has ordered that students take the tests using pencil and paper.

Measurement Inc. is the North Carolina-based company that developed TNReady. Records show that the state awarded the company with a contract worth more than $107 million for work from 2015-2020. Company officials did not return a phone call seeking comment.

McQueen, in her email, said technical problems have occurred before Monday. But after the disastrous first-day rollout with computer-networking glitches, the education commissioner said she didn’t expect the network to perform well consistently. A number of schools systems across the state had problems taking the test earlier in the day; however, it’s not clear how many were affected.

“In the best interest of our students and to protect instructional time, we cannot continue with Measurement Incorporated’s online testing platform in its current state,” McQueen wrote.

This is the first year students were supposed to take an assessment test online.

TNReady assesses math and English skills for grades 3-11. It replaces the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, known as TCAP tests. Supporters say it does a better job of assessing critical-thinking skills than the previous test.

Paul Stanley on Durham: A ‘hatchet job,’ bungling leaders and more

Former state Sen. Paul Stanley, who resigned from the legislature in 2009 after acknowledging having an affair with a legislative intern that led to an extortion attempt, offers his views on the sexual misconduct allegations involving Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, in a blog post.

An excerpt:

If for one second you think I’m defending Durham then you’re mistaken. If he did anything close to what is reported or rumored then he should immediately step forward and admit his mistakes. I did and it was difficult but important.

Here are my observations on the Durham story so far:
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TennCare pushing birth control for drug-abusing women

TennCare officials are pushing health care providers to prescribe birth control implants to mothers of children with drug dependency, reports WPLN.

The state’s prescription painkiller epidemic is the underlying problem. Babies born to mothers hooked on opiates often suffer withdrawals, known as neonatal abstinence syndrome. According to the latest figures, 93 percent of all NAS births in the state are to mothers on TennCare. The agency now spends $50 million a year on the related hospital bills as infants go through detox in a neonatal intensive care unit.

To make sure mothers don’t end up having a second child with the same condition, TennCare is prodding obstetricians to recommend long-acting birth control implants.

“We want to put in place the right incentives for that conversation to occur,” chief medical officer Vaughn Frigon says.“That’s really a conversation that’s best between the treating physician and the mother. But what we want to do is make sure that those contraceptives are available.”

TennCare has made it so doctors can get paid more for the procedure if its done while a new mother is still in the hospital. The agency has also made it easier for hospitals to keep the implants or intrauterine devices (IUD) on hand.

The latest TennCare data shows fewer women on prescribed painkillers taking birth control pills too. Among 30 to 34-year-olds, just 15 percent of those on prescribed opiates also were on contraceptives.

Women’s health groups are somewhat wary. Health officials have also been pushing birth control as women leave jail in some counties with particularly high instances of neonatal abstinence syndrome.