Tag Archives: scandals

Harwell backs ouster of Durham in special session

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Next week’s special legislative session will also present an opportunity to oust a lawmaker who was the subject of an extensive sexual harassment probe, Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell’s office said Wednesday.

Gov. Bill Haslam called the special session with the limited purpose of fixing a drunken driving law to avoid losing $60 million in federal road money.

But research by the House clerk and legal staff found that an effort to remove a sitting member would be considered “procedural” under the chamber’s rules and therefore permissible during the special session, said Harwell spokeswoman Kara Owen.

Owen said that a resolution to oust Republican Rep. Jeremy Durham of Franklin is expected to be filed before next week’s session, and that Harwell plans to vote for the measure. Continue reading

Durham closes business tied to campaign investigation

State Rep. Jeremy Durham has closed the title company business that ties into an investigation over whether the Franklin Republican diverted campaign money to personal use, reports the Tennessean.

In addition to serving as a lawmaker, Durham is an attorney. Until recently, he operated a title company called Battleground Title & Escrow LLC, a company used for real estate transactions that was founded in November 2014, according to documents from the secretary of state.

But on Aug. 15, the status of his business went from active to dissolved to terminated, according to state records. Adam Ghassemi, a spokesman for the secretary of state’s office, said a “notice of dissolution” and “articles of termination” were filed by Durham with the office Aug. 15. That means Durham can’t continue to legally conduct business under the name Battleground Title & Escrow.

“The voluntary dissolution is filed on behalf of the entity by an authorized party when the entity is winding down a business,” Ghassemi said. “Articles of termination mean the entity will be legally terminated.”

…In May, Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery announced a former Durham employee named Benton Smith had given his office a signed statement accusing Durham of using campaign funds for his title company. The announcement came before Slatery released his final report from the investigation that revealed allegations of sexual misconduct by Durham.

…Durham has adamantly denied the allegations from Smith, calling him a disgruntled employee, but the findings were turned over to the registry. The registry announced it would investigate Durham’s actions…Earlier this week (Durham’s attorney, Peter) Strianse said U.S. Attorney David Rivera has issued two subpoenas related to Durham’s campaign finances, possibly to explore whether any tax violation occurred.

Feds now investigating Durham’s campaign finances

Federal prosecutors have opened an investigation into campaign expenditures by embattled Franklin Rep. Jeremy Durham, according to The Tennessean.

Nashville criminal defense attorney Peter Strianse said he was recently retained by Durham.

“The U.S. attorney’s office in Nashville has opened up a matter based on the allegations that were carried in your newspaper,” he said. “I think the government has an open mind about what they’re investigating.”

The federal government has issued two subpoenas to Durham for records related to campaign finance issues and a possible tax violation, Strianse said. He said Durham was complying with those orders.

“Mr. Durham’s going to cooperate fully with their investigation,” Strianse said. “We feel confident once they take a look at the records and understand what happened they’ll see there’s no violation of any law.”

…In June, Drew Rawlins, executive director of the bureau, told The Tennessean it violates state law to use campaign funds for personal purposes.

On Monday, Rawlins confirmed that he talked to the U.S. Attorney but did not provide them with any information from the state’s audit.

“We will not stop our audit because of the U.S. Attorney’s probe,” Rawlins said.

Durham campaign audit finds money discrepancy, questionable ‘investments

A $191,000 discrepancy exists between bank records and financial disclosures for Rep. Jeremy Durham’s main campaign finance account, according to a memo from the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance that’s part of an ongoing state investigation.

A further excerpt from The Tennessean report:

Bank records show Durham’s campaign account on March 31 had a balance of $6,857, according to the memo obtained by The Tennessean. But Durham’s first quarter financial disclosure, filed on June 6, states the campaign had $198,254.

“At this time a determination cannot be made as to the accuracy of Rep. Durham’s campaign balance due to investments, failure to report contributions and other transactions,” states the memo, dated Wednesday.

Drew Rawlins, executive director of the state Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance, wouldn’t say whether the state found any illegal acts by Durham. But Tom Lawless, chairman of the board, said the memo raises questions.

“There are indications there may be some serious violations, and we want to garner the facts so we can take the appropriate remedies,” Lawless said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

The registry, an entity within the state Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance, started investigating Durham in June after the Tennessee attorney general provided a signed statement from a former campaign worker accusing Durham of using campaign funds for his private business. Continue reading

Durham victim harassed via email

Someone sent an email to the colleagues of one of the 22 women included in the Tennessee attorney general’s investigation into embattled Rep. Jeremy Durham, identifying her and advocating for her to lose her job because of her behavior as described in the report, according to The Tennessean.

Even though the attorney general knows about the reported harassing behavior, the office says there’s nothing he can do.

“It’s frustrating, but I understand the AG doesn’t have jurisdiction here,” said House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada, R-Franklin.

“She has no recourse but to go to the district attorney and get relief. That’s her only option.”

The Tennessean obtained a copy of the email, which is one of several harassing messages. On Thursday Casada confirmed that the woman contacted him about receiving the harassing messages. Two packages with harassing materials also were sent, Casada said, including one mailed to her family. Continue reading

Effort to call Durham ouster session flops

Efforts to call Tennessee legislators into special session to expel Reps. Jeremy Durham and oe Armstrong from the House failed to get the needed signatures by Friday’s deadline, reports the Times-Free Press.

There were two petitions — one to expel only Durham, R-Franklin; the other to expel Armstrong, D-Knoxville, as well.

Both petitions fell dozens of signatures short of the required 66 or two thirds of 99 representatives needed to initiate the process.

“I think I’ll be relieved to be finished with Jeremy Durham issues,” said Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, who initiated the Durham-only petition. “I think the body has decided not to pursue that.”

Only 27 representatives signed McCormick’s petition to oust Durham, described in a state Attorney General investigation of having inappropriately approached or sexually harassed at least 22 women, most of them state Capitol female workers, interns and lobbyists.

Sixteen Republicans and 11 Democrats signed McCormick’s Durham petition. Continue reading

Black Caucus opposes Durham ouster session

News release from Black Caucus of State Legislators
The Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators (TBCSL) is not endorsing a movement to return lawmakers to Nashville for a special session to vote on possible removal of embattled Rep. Jeremy Durham.

An Attorney General report into the activities of Rep. Durham found that Durham sexually harassed at least 22 women during his time in office. The report was presented to a special House of Representatives committee. The committee determined that while Rep. Durham’s activities were worthy of expulsion, since this is an election year, the voters should be the ones to decide if he should return to the State House.

After calls to oust Durham before November—at which point he would be eligible for a state pension–Republican lawmakers began circulating a petition to members to call for the special session.

TBCSL Chair Brenda Gilmore said the Black Caucus position is that a special session is not needed to “fix an issue that Republican leadership has known about for years and refused to do anything about. They stayed silent and took no action for months and months and now they want to try to turn it into a political issue.”

The voters in Rep. Durham’s district have spoken, and he will not return for the 110th General Assembly. Continue reading

Durham loses seat in a landslide

State Rep. Jeremy Durham, once viewed as a rising star among younger Republican, lost his House seat in a landslide Thursday following reports on his sexual harassment of 22 women.

From The Tennessean’s report:

Challenger Sam Whitson trounced the former House majority whip, earning 3,682 votes compared to 645 for Durham, according to final but unofficial results. Stacey Givens, who pulled out of the race but did so too late to have her name removed from the ballot, received 303 votes.

“I’m just very grateful to the voters of the 65th House District, trusting me in this. This is a great victory in the Republican primary and we’re looking forward to the November general election,” Whitson, 62, said after the race was called in his favor. “We’re going to work just as hard in that one as we did in this one.”

Durham suspended his campaign last month in the wake of a Tennessee attorney general’s report citing 22 women who alleged inappropriate sexual contact or conduct by Durham, R-Franklin. Early voting started the next day.

Durham, 32, and his attorney Bill Harbison did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

Special ouster session way short on signatures

The idea of calling a special session of the Legislature to consider ouster of state Rep. Jeremy Durham — and possibly Rep. Joe Armstrong — appears to be losing steam.

As of Friday, only four nine of the necessary 66 state House members had signed either of two submitted petitions. One by House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga, calls for expelling Durham, R-Franklin, and the other by House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada, calls for ousting both Durham and Armstrong, D-Knoxville.

Durham has been accused in an investigative report by state Attorney General Herbert Slatery of sexually harassing 22 women legislative staffers, lobbyists and interns. Armstrong goes on trial Tuesday on federal tax evasion charges that prosecutors contend involve profits from a cigarette tax increase he supported as a lawmaker.

Casada said in a telephone interview Sunday that he was a bit surprised at the scant signatures so far and will confer “mid-week” with House Speaker Beth Harwell to consider the possibility of extending the deadline for signing the petitions that is currently set for Friday.

But he also said that, should the signature drive fall short, he would accept that decision as “what the majority wants.” Continue reading