Gov. Bill Haslam and his chief of staff, Mark Cate, said Tuesday they show no favoritism toward Tom Ingram’s lobbying clients, though Cate’s emails indicate considerable friendly contact with Ingram and an associate.
Several of the emails obtained by WTVF-TV involved HR Comp Employee Leasing, a Knox County firm that had problems with the state Department of Insurance and retained The Ingram Group’s lobbying and consultant services. The firm, owned and operated by Andrea Ball of Powell, at one point was found to be operating without a state license and agreed to pay $10,000 in a consent order.
In one email, Ingram describes the company’s situation as “a very troubling case.” In another, Marcille Durham, president of the Ingram Group, says Andrea Ball would like to meet with him about departmental action “driving her out of business” and Cate replies that he is “optimistic we can find a resolution.”
Both Cate and Ball said in interviews Tuesday that they had never met.
Cate said “I don’t really see any point” in the TV report on his email since he was merely doing his job of dealing with people who have issues with one part of state government or another.
Gov. Bill Haslam has insisted that Tom Ingram, a lobbyist who gives him private advice for an undisclosed fee, does not lobby him on behalf of other clients. But WTVF reports that Haslam administration emails show Ingram clients had “enormous access” to the governor’s top advisers.
The story’s prime example is Chris and Andrea Ball, who had been cited in 2012 for operating a staff leasing company without a license, the station says. They showed up at a bill-signing ceremony shortly afterwards and a Tennessean headline on a story reprting this asked, “Who Invited This Couple?” At the time, Haslam aides told reporters it was a mystery who invited the couple to attend the signing of a bill that regulated staff leasing companies.
But emails obtained by NewsChannel 5 Investigates show Haslam’s administration was well aware of the couple. The Balls had hired Ingram.
His firm sent regular updates about the Balls to the governor’s chief of staff, Mark Cate.
…In March 2012, Marcille Durham of the Ingram Group sent an email to Cate, “Andrea Ball would very much like to visit with you, however briefly, regarding the Department of Insurance action that is driving her out of business.”
Cate responded that he talked with the Department of Insurance Commissioner and is “optimistic we can find a resolution.”
In April 2012, Ingram emailed Mark Cate about the Ball’s company, “Is there anytime today or tomorrow I can talk again about HR Comp Employee Leasing LLC. This is a very troubling case.”
A month after that, the Balls appeared at the bill signing.
Then in July 2012, Durham complained to Cate about a specific “fraud investigator” with the state. She was concerned about the “level of surveillance” on the Balls company.
Cate asked to be “kept in the loop.”
The emails show a level of access likely to make other lobbyists envious.
Ingram and his firm communicated regularly with Cate, even when he was on vacation in the Bahamas and on holiday weekends.
A fundraiser will be held today for state Sen. Becky Duncan Massey and Rep. Harry Brooks at the Powell home of a couple who have been in the news for operating a company without a Tennessee license, reports Georgiana Vines. Massey’s brother, U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., R-Knoxville, will be the honored guest, according to the invitation.
The problems of Chris and Andrea Ball and their firm, HR Comp LLC, came to light last month after they appeared in a photo with Gov. Bill Haslam when he signed into law a new statute governing the operation of staff leasing companies.
Tom Ingram, a government affairs specialist/lobbyist who lives in Knoxville, said Friday the Balls’ competitors had been busy notifying the media of their problems.
“I’ve worked with them over a year. They have a new license. In the end, Andrea worked hard with (an) association to tighten up regulations in the industry that has been subject to abuse. They’re building a good business,” Ingram said.
Ingram said Andrea Ball worked with the National Association of Professional Employer Organizations on the legislation passed this year.
In a consent order signed April 9, the Balls’ attorney acknowledged their business had acted as an employee leasing agency without a license and the Balls had given false responses when asked about it, according to The Tennessean in Nashville.
The newspaper also reported a $10,000 fine was issued. In the consent order, the Department of Commerce and Insurance determined Andrea Ball was not of “good moral character because the Jan. 12, 2010, response she sent about HR Comp’s unlicensed activity was not true.”
The new license, which is probationary, is for HR Comp Employee Leasing. Andrea Ball said Friday she is the owner and her husband is not part of the business. She also said a $3.5 million federal tax lien is being paid off monthly.
“I’ve spent 1½ years trying to address an old situation,” she said.
Ball said former Knoxville mayoral candidate Mark Padgett has been hired to help with sales.
— Note: Previous post HERE.
When a smiling Gov. Bill Haslam signed into law a new statute governing the operation of staff leasing companies, he was surrounded by a group that included two people whose company recently was cited and fined for operating without a license, reports The Tennessean. One of them had been described in a state document as “not of good moral character” — which may be why no one seems to want to own up to inviting them.
In a consent order signed April 9, the attorney representing Chris and Andrea Ball of Powell, Tenn., acknowledged that their firm, HR Comp LLC, had acted as an employee leasing agency without the license required by state law and that the Balls had given false responses when asked about it.
An investigation by the state Department of Commerce and Insurance found that HR Comp LLC had a staff leasing arrangement with Barden Enterprises, parent company of a Knoxville sports bar, for about 10 months ending in November 2010.
“Southside Sports Bar had three to five employees during that period,” said D. Christopher Garrett, a spokesman for the agency.
So the department imposed a $10,000 fine and issued another Ball company — but one with a strikingly similar name, HR Comp Employee Leasing — a probationary one-year license.
…”The department determined that Andrea Ball was not of good moral character because the Jan. 12, 2010, response she sent about HR Comp’s unlicensed activity was not true,” the consent order states.
The probationary license was issued after Andrea Ball admitted submitting the false statement and paid the $10,000 civil penalty.
According to Haslam’s aides, the bill on the licensing of staff leasing agencies was one of 25 signed in a series on May 29.
As for who invited the Balls, Haslam aides and state legislators on hand for the ceremony said they had no idea.
— Note: The state legislators in the picture are Rep. Ryan Haynes, R-Knoxville, and Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin. Johnson told the Tennessean he came to the ceremonial signing event for another bill, but then joined the staffing bill group for the picture.
From R. Neal at Knoxviews:
Noted Knoxville attorney Gordon Ball is co-lead counsel on a blockbuster case filed in the Illinois Supreme Court involving State Farm, a $1 billion class action lawsuit, and an allegedly corrupt judge. Former Senator Fred Thompson, who recently led an effort to block “tort reform” liability limits in Tennessee, is co-counsel.
According to the lawsuit, State Farm and its lawyers got an Illinois Supreme Court Justice elected by pumping $2.5 to $4 million into his campaign through PACs, and six months later the judge cast a deciding vote to reverse on appeal a $1.05 billion class action consumer fraud judgment against State Farm involving bogus replacement parts for wrecked cars.
The plaintiffs seek to have the reversal vacated and the original judgement restored to “correct a judgment obtained through fraud and concealment.” They allege that “State Farm’s extraordinary financial and political support for Justice Karmeier’s 2004 campaign created a constitutionally-unacceptable risk of bias such that his participation and vote to reverse the $1.05 billion judgment deprived Petitioners of their due process rights.” They had previously requested the judge to recuse himself from the case but he refused. UPDATE; Chicago Tribune story HERE.