Jim Balloch reports on new curiosities coming to light in a Pigeon Forge liquor-by-the-drink referendum that was decided by 100 votes with, reportedly,, 303 more people voting than were registered to cast ballots in city elections. It’s already inspired a lawsuit and now it appears the FBI is interested.
But the real curiosity is the apparent move by some companies to make people eligible – as property owners – by giving them an interest, temporarily, in property within the city limits. An excerpt
Pigeon Forge City Hall is a split precinct. Besides city voters, many county residents who live outside the city vote there in countywide, state and national elections.
In sworn depositions, poll workers say they were instructed to allow nonresidents to vote in the referendum, that many who did not live in the city were given liquor by the drink ballots, and that there was a lot of confusion that day because different ballots were required for combinations of races.
“I’m sure that contributed to the problem,” Francis said. “I cannot disagree with (poll workers’ statements) that it was a chaotic and confusing day.”
Sevier County property records show some spurious land transactions that were the basis of votes cast by more than a dozen nonresidents who voted as property owners. The votes were perfectly legal, according to state election officials, even though the property ownership claimed by those voters was a 1 percent interest in extremely valuable commercial properties.
Those interests were given — for free — shortly before the election, by four Knoxville-based corporations with numerous links to developers and restaurant businesses in Pigeon Forge.
There are also questions about the validity of what are listed on voter rosters as residential addresses for some Pigeon Forge voters. These include mail drops, a vacant lot, and a building that houses a tattoo parlor and check cashing business.
The News Sentinel was unable to locate some of those individuals for whom those addresses were listed. Some others were found residing in Pigeon Forge residences, and said they used other locations as a mailing address that should not have been listed as their residences.
The News Sentinel has learned that two FBI agents from the Knoxville office recently met with about six members of Concerned Churches and Citizens of Pigeon Forge, a group that opposed liquor by the drink and has filed a lawsuit challenging the election.
The FBI does not confirm or deny the existence of an ongoing investigation, or even say if it has made a preliminary inquiry about a possible investigation
…”I was told that whoever came to my table, if their name was on my roster, they got to vote on the referendum,” even if they did not have a Pigeon Forge address or property, poll worker Mary Louise Beck said in a sworn deposition. She was one of four Election Commission employees subpoenaed to give depositions in CCCPF’s lawsuit challenging the election.
More depositions are being taken this week. Trial is set for Jan. 10-11.
….Nearly all of the property deeds that paved the way for more than a dozen nonresidents to vote in the city only referendum were prepared by the same Knoxville lawyer, Elizabeth A. Martin.
Martin herself was one of three people who were deeded 1 percent interest in Belle Island, a failed tourist development. Attempts are being made to revive it. The property is appraised at over $14 million and mortgaged, and a part of it is currently the subject of a lawsuit.
Martin and another recipient, David Lynn Maples, voted on the referendum. Records show that Ted O. Greene was also deeded an interest, but did not vote. All three have since deeded their 1 percent back to the corporation — LeConte Village LLC — that gave it to them.
All of the other parcels front the Parkway. Each is owned by one of five different limited liability corporations each with the same address: Suite B, 7100 Kingston Pike, Knoxville, an office in the rear of the People’s National Bank. Besides LeConte Village LLC, they are Two Ducks LLC, Three Pigeons LLC, Falcon LLC, and Parkway Entrance LLC.
Records list the price paid for a 1 percent interest on all of the conveyances as “$0.”