Category Archives: crime

Koch-sponsored forum talks TN criminal justice reform

Conservatives gathered in Nashville Wednesday for wine, hors d’oeuvres and conversation over criminal justice reform, reports The Tennessean. They discussed topics ranging from curbing court fees that prevent people from obtaining driver’s licenses, thus capturing people in a cycle of repeat offenses and poverty, to providing jobs for people who are released from prison. Panelists also showed support for decriminalizing minor, non-violent offenses as a way to cut down the state’s prison population.

“It’s important that conservatives understand the reality of our criminal justice system,” said Justin Owen, president and CEO of conservative thinktank the Beacon Center of Tennessee. “We want conservatives to understand what we’ve been doing for the past 30 years isn’t working.”

For some like Owen, the dollars make sense to tackle reform.

“By and large we’ve done very little in the state of Tennessee to reform our criminal justice system, and it’s cost taxpayers a significant amount of money,” he said. “It’s become the third-highest expenditure in our state budget and our crime rates have continued to go up.”

The event was hosted by the Charles Koch Institute, an outreach effort backed by one of the nation’s richest and most politically influential men.

Perhaps luckily timed because the Tennessee General Assembly’s special session brought lawmakers to Nashville the same day, those in the audience included state Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, and several other legislators. Also there were active local donor and businessman Lee Beaman (who is on the Beacon Center board) and Josh Spickler, executive director of Just City in Memphis, a group of lawyers and activists who advocate justice reform.

DUI special session deemed a ‘step backward’

By Eric Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration is looking to turn back the clock on an underage drunken driving law that threatened to cost Tennessee $60 million in federal road money.

The law that went into effect in July raised the penalties for driving under the influence by 18- through 20-year-olds. But the change ran afoul of federal zero-tolerance standards for underage drivers by raising the maximum allowable blood alcohol content from 0.02 percent to 0.08 percent.

According to an advance version of legislation the Haslam administration plans to file during a special session that starts next week, the state would eliminate nearly all of the provisions of the new law, returning the 0.02 percent rule and the more lenient penalties for all drivers beneath the legal drinking age.

“From a public policy standpoint, this is obviously a step backward,” said Republican Rep. William Lamberth of Gallatin, the lead sponsor of the original legislation. “But it is a step that will put us in compliance with federal regulation and ensure that that $60 million comes to Tennessee.” Continue reading

Comptroller: Jail inmate got full-time county job

News release from state comptroller’s office
An investigation by the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office has found numerous problems with the way inmate labor was handled within the Marshall County Solid Waste and Sheriff’s Departments. Marshall County allowed jail inmates to work at the county’s solid waste facility in Lewisburg.

Investigators determined the solid waste director hired an incarcerated felon as a full-time county employee at $12.46 per hour. He received the same employee benefits as other county employees including health insurance, retirement, and sick leave. The inmate was paid a total of $12,444.43 by the county.

Comptroller investigators also found that inmates working at the solid waste facility were not properly supervised. This led to workers scavenging and hiding alcohol, drugs, tobacco products, cell phones, weapons, pornography, and other contraband items within the facility. Continue reading

Three make plea deals in sheriff corruption case

Three people involved in the pending trial on corruption charges against Gibson County’s former sheriff Thursday accepted plea agreements, reports the Jackson Sun.

Former Sheriff Charles “Chuck” Arnold, former Chief Deputy Jeff Maitland, and 10 other former Sheriff’s Office employees were indicted following an investigation by the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury and Tennessee Bureau of Investigation in late November 2015.

Joel Hughey, Eddie Bradford and Renea Terrell, who were among those indicted, pleaded Thursday to lesser charges. Hughey and Terrell pleaded guilty, and Bradford entered an Alford plea, known as a “best interest” plea.

The three defendants who made plea agreements may be called to testify against others in the case. Arnold, Maitland and the other remaining defendants decided they will go to trial.

Hughey and Bradford were fired from their positions as correctional officers after they were indicted on charges of theft of $1,000 or more and official misconduct. According to a state investigative audit report, Hughey and Bradford were among several employees accused of receiving overtime pay for work they didn’t do.

… Terrell, the contract nurse (working with the sheriff’s department), pleaded guilty to one count of theft and three counts of conspiracy to obtain controlled substances by fraud and will serve three years on probation. She must pay $1,339.92 in restitution. Her case is subject to judicial diversion, which means she could have her criminal record expunged if she satisfies the terms of her probation.

Terrell was originally indicted on one count of conspiracy to obtain controlled substances by fraud, 39 counts of obtaining controlled substances by fraud, 39 counts of official misconduct and two counts of theft

…Arnold is charged with more than 100 counts of official misconduct, theft and obtaining prescription drugs by fraud.

According to the audit report and indictments, Arnold’s official misconduct charges stem from accusations that he took money from a drug fund; forged a receipt; submitted excessive payment requests for himself, Maitland and another employee; authorized excessive compensation for multiple employees; falsified pay records; inflated invoices; and obtained controlled substances by fraud.

School money stolen for drinking, gambling

A former Knox County Schools supervisor accused of using his district-issued credit card to place online gambling bets pleaded guilty Wednesday to felony theft of more than $10,000, according to the News Sentinel.

Roger Underwood, 61, has agreed to a three-year sentence, but the details will be determined by Criminal Court Judge Scott Green on Sept. 29.

The state plans to object to judicial diversion, said Sean McDermott, a Knox County assistant district attorney general.

Underwood has agreed to repay the $11,989 he stole by that hearing, McDermott said.

The former accounts payable supervisor, who had an annual salary of $96,074, was fired in October after admitting to using his school credit card for personal purchases. Investigators found he placed bets ranging from $99 to $299 on the card, losing as much as $1,800 in one day gambling online.

A report from the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury also questioned $731 in charges during a retirement reception at a Mississippi casino, where Underwood also ordered martinis, peach schnapps and a $200 tray of hors d’oeuvres and gave a $115 tip.

He also received reimbursements for school-related trips he never took, officials said.

“Because Underwood was responsible for reviewing school credit card charges, including his own, officials were unaware of these inappropriate charges,” the comptroller’s report states.

Former development district director pleads guilty to stealing fed funds

Wendy Askins, the former director of the Upper Cumberland Development District, pleaded guilty Tuesday afternoon in a federal courtroom to two counts of theft from the federally-funded agency, reports WTVF-TV.

The U.S. Attorney’s office says Askins admits that she used funding from the Upper Cumberland Development District to buy property that she claimed would serve as a senior living facility called “Living the Dream.”

Instead, she made tens of thousands of dollars of upgrades to the residence — like converting a bedroom into a tanning bed and installing a double-winding staircase. At that point in 2012, News Channel 5 started an investigation, which led law enforcement to get involved.

Prosecutors say Askins tried to hide where some $233,000 came from by telling an employee to falsify minutes of a board meeting.

The 55-year-old from Red Boiling Springs is scheduled to be sentenced in federal court at the end of October by Judge Aleta Trauger. The maximum penalty is 10 years in prison.

Askins’ assistant — Larry Webb — already pleaded guilty to bank fraud this month and should be sentenced in September.

October date set for Todd sign theft trial

An October 11 trial date has been set in the case of suburban state Rep. Curry Todd, charged earlier this month with stealing opponent Mark Lovell’s yard signs, reports the Commercial Appeal.

Lawyers discussed the case Monday before General Sessions Court Judge Louis J. Montesi Jr. in hushed tones impossible to hear. Afterward, both Todd, R-Collierville, and his attorney Ted Hansom declined to comment. Prosecutor Byron Winsett confirmed the October 11 trial date.

Winsett is the top-level local prosecutor for public corruption and economic crimes. He said he’s handling the case because it involves a public official.

Todd — charged with theft of property under $500, a misdemeanor — was arrested two days before the August 4 primary election, which he went on to lose to Lovell. The arrest came after two instances where a Lovell backer photographed the state legislator removing the challenger’s signs. Lovell told Sheriff’s deputies hundreds of his sign were missing.

…Todd acknowledged taking the signs, but contended the landowner gave him exclusive rights to place signs at the property. He identified the owners as the Porters. An arrest affidavit written by Detective Sgt. B. Clark says he interviewed Joel Porter, who said Todd did not contact him, and no one had specific authorization to put signs on the property.

Armstrong attorney: Split verdict invalid

From Jamie Satterfield:
If former state Rep. Joe Armstrong did not try to evade taxes, he cannot be guilty of filing a false tax return.

So argues Armstrong’s defense attorney, Gregory P. Isaacs, in a motion filed Monday in U.S. District Court asking a judge to either judicially acquit Armstrong of the felony filing a false tax return conviction he suffered this month or grant the now ex-lawmaker a new trial. Continue reading

Counseling service bilked TennCare for $300K

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The owner of a Memphis counseling service has pleaded guilty to defrauding TennCare of more than $300,000 by billing for services that were never performed.

According to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Memphis, Vicky Fox began contracting with Tennessee’s Medicaid program in 2008 for grief counselling and psychotherapy services at her Rainbow Center for Children and Adolescents.

After one of Rainbow Center’s licensed clinical social workers left in January 2012, Fox continued to use that worker’s provider number to bill for phantom services.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation began looking into the billing in August 2014 at the request of the Bureau of TennCare.

Fox pleaded guilty on Friday to one count of health care fraud. She is scheduled to be sentenced in November.

Rep. Daniel booked on assault charge

State. Rep. Martin Daniel was formally booked Thursday on a misdemeanor assault charge lodged against him last month for allegedly shoving his Republican primary opponent, according to the News Sentinel.

Daniel, 59, is charged with shoving Steve Hall during a July 21 on-air radio forum hosted by Hallerin Hilton Hill on WOKI-FM when the two candidates for the 18th District House Republican primary race began arguing.

…Hall, who previously held the House seat for two terms until Daniel ousted him in 2014, swore out a warrant against Daniel the following week, and publicly and repeatedly questioned Daniel’s mental health.

Daniel still went on to win the GOP primary Aug. 4 with 1,314 votes. He faces Democratic challenger Brandi Price in the Nov. 8 general election. Price has said she doesn’t plan to bring up the assault case “unless it needs to be brought up.”

Daniel and his lawyer, Gregory P. Isaacs, have insisted Daniel offered Hall a “heartfelt and sincere” apology and that the assault charge came as a surprise.

Hall, who came in second in the primary by 964 votes, has said he plans to continue to pursue the assault case.