County Commissioner Richard Briggs said his nomination of Craig Leuthold for Knox County trustee was not a conflict of interest, reports the News Sentinel, though Leuthold’s father is Briggs’ treasurer for a Tennessee state Senate bid. “If it is a conflict, it’s a conflict by second degree,” Briggs said. “I don’t have anything to gain by Craig being in the office or not being in the office.”
Knox County Law Director Bud Armstrong said there was no conflict in Briggs’ action under county policy.
“He’s got a guy who has volunteered to run his campaign who happens to be Frank Leuthold,” Armstrong said.
Briggs said he voted rather than “disenfranchise” his 5th District constituents by recusing himself from voting for an interim trustee on Monday.
Briggs, Leuthold and other Knox County elected officials explained to the News Sentinel this week their connections and decision-making used to fill the trustee seat that John J. Duncan III resigned from July 2. Duncan pleaded guilty that day to a felony charge for giving $18,000 in unearned bonuses to himself and staff.
While local political gadflies have mused over the connections between Leuthold and the people who selected him, Briggs defended Leuthold as a commissioner who made it through “Black Wednesday” unscathed.
Leuthold worked in the Knox County Property Assessor’s Office until his Monday appointment as the county’s tax collector and was a two-term commissioner who held office when the state Supreme Court enforced term limits in 2007.
Craig Leuthold, a former Knox County commissioner, was named by the current Knox County Commission Monday as trustee, filling the seat vacated when John J. Duncan III resigned July 2 after pleading guilty to a low-level felony for paying himself and staffers more than $18,000 in bonuses he knew they didn’t earn.
From the News Sentinel: Leuthold said he would open the bookkeeping.
“I’m going to work toward changing morale,” he said. “I’m going to be transparent.”
Former Trustee Mike Lowe held office from 1994 until he was term-limited by the state Supreme Court in 2007. He surrendered to authorities in April 2012 amid grand jury indictments on multiple counts of felony theft of more than $60,000. The grand jury also indicted four others from the county’s tax collection department.
Leuthold worked under Lowe, primarily in satellite offices. He said he would draw on his familiarity with the office in his approach during his term that lasts slightly more than a year. The office will be up for election in August 2014.
Given the troubled history of the office, commissioners wanted candidates to promise openness. They differed on whether they wanted a political outsider or someone connected to county government.
Monday’s discussions included some political theatrics by commissioners, including a postponement proposal to allow absent Commissioner Mike Brown to join in the vote in August.
Felonies and criminal charges from past Knox County trustees are preventing the interim trustee from obtaining the bonding she needs to fully operate, according to the News Sentinel. The Hartford, the bonding company for the Knox County Trustee’s Office, notified the county that it wouldn’t bond Kristin Phillips, the county’s acting trustee, until the county provided more information on the position.
“That causes great consternation,” Tony Norman, chairman of the Knox County Commission, said. “That affects their daily practices there.”
The lack of the $18.5 million bond for the seat keeps the trustee from investing the county’s tax money and similar jobs. The bond, required for the officeholder, is intended to protect the public from failure to perform duty or malfeasance.
…Phillips became acting trustee after the resignation of the previous officeholder, John J. Duncan III. Duncan pleaded guilty on July 2 to a low-level felony for paying himself and staffers more than $18,000 in bonuses he knew they didn’t earn.
Before him, Mike Lowe, who was trustee from 1994 until being term-limited by the state Supreme Court in 2007, surrendered to authorities in April 2012 following grand jury indictments on multiple counts of felony theft of more than $60,000. The grand jury indicted four others who worked in the county’s tax collection department. Lowe’s trial is set for 2014.
Knox County Trustee John Duncan III pleaded guilty today in Criminal Court to a felony charge of official misconduct and resigned from office, reports the News Sentinel. He entered the plea by information, which means he agreed to skip a grand jury review.
He received a one-year probation and may apply for diversion.
He must cooperate with “this” and “any other probes,” according to his plea agreement taken by Judge Mary Beth Leibowitz.
His father, U.S. Rep. Jimmy Duncan, said after the hearing, “We can rely on our faith to get on with our future.”
He declined further comment.
Prosecutor Bill Bright said that Duncan had then-attorney Chad Tindell file a salary lawsuit on Sept. 30, 2010, approving bonuses of $3,000 each for himself and five others, and a $2,000 bonus for a sixth staffer for completing a training program that none of them had, in fact, completed.
Duncan, as part of the plea, is specifically agreeing to participate in the probes of the other employees who received bonuses who have not yet been charged.
Bright alleged that Duncan lied to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation by saying that no one ever told him that it was improper to collect bonuses before completion of the training program.
However, three employees told the TBI that they had, in fact, warned Duncan against trying to collect bonuses without having completed the training.
In February, Tindell received judicial diversion on a misdemeanor charge connected to his participation in the bonus program that let some employees in the Trustee’s Office receive extra money for educational studies they never completed. Tindell worked more than two years as the tax attorney for the Trustee’s Office before leaving early this year. He can seek to wipe his record clean if he abides by the terms of his probation.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Prosecutors in Knoxville say former Knox County Trustee Mike Lowe paid employees who never performed work.
The Knoxville News Sentinel (http://bit.ly/14wTIJO ) reported documents recently filed in Knox County Criminal Court allege Lowe and two former aides conducted a “continuous larcenous scheme” in which ghost employees were on the payroll.
Lowe, Delbert Morgan and Ray Mubarak face multiple theft charges.
A bill of particulars filed by the district attorney’s office alleges Morgan bilked taxpayers out of nearly $197,000 by not showing up for work over four years.
The newspaper said Gregory P. Isaacs, Lowe’s lawyer, and Tom Dillard, Mubarak’s lawyer, declined comment Tuesday. Jeff Daniel, Morgan’s attorney, could not be reached for comment.
In April 2012, when indictments were returned, Isaacs said Lowe strongly denied the allegations.
The chief of staff to Knox County Trustee John Duncan III and his office attorney pleaded guilty this morning in Criminal Court to facilitation of official misconduct, reports the News Sentinel Joshua A. Burnett, 32, and attorney Chadwick B. Tindell, 48, were both sentenced to 11 months, 29 days probation on the misdemeanor charge by Criminal Court Judge Mary Beth Liebowitz.
Both will be eligible for judicial diversion.
Duncan’s status was not immediately available. His attorney, Jeff Hagood, was out of town and said he could not comment.
Burnett and Tindell both resigned from the Trustee’s Office, according to a statement this afternoon from Duncan.
Bill Curtis will become the office’s chief deputy, and resumes will be sought for the delinquent tax attorney position, according to the statement. Tindell will assist with pending matters.
Appearing with his attorney Tommy Hindman, Burnett agreed to cooperate in “any way requested” by prosecutors.
Hindman said the plea is connected to bonuses handed out by Duncan three months after he took office in September 2010.
It’s “a very unfortunate circumstance” and “he took some very bad advice,” Hindman said.
“He is pleased to have this matter concluded and looks forward to the opportunity to move on with his life.”
Knox County’s information technology department Wednesday seized a computer belonging to a Trustee’s Office employee who county officials say may have taken state-administered tests on behalf of his co-workers, reports Mike Donila. Information about the allegation has been turned over to authorities for a possible criminal investigation.
“We have it (the computer) locked up in our cage where we keep things like that, and I’ll wait for instruction,” said Dick Moran, head of the county’s IT department.
Moran said Knox County District Attorney General Randy Nichols called him Wednesday and asked him to secure a specific Dell desktop computer inside the Trustee’s Office. He said he’ll meet with Nichols today to find out what he wants done with it.
Knox County Commissioner R. Larry Smith said he initially received a tip that an employee was taking a test for other workers in the office. He also said he was told that someone in the office either destroyed computer files or attempted to cover up evidence of the activity.
He said he got the information “from a credible source — someone who has no grudges or political aspirations, whatsoever.”
Knox County Trustee John Duncan III has given himself and other employees in his office a $3,000 bonus authorized by state law for earning accreditation as a certified public administrator. But Mike Donila reports that Duncan and the others in his office are not certified public administrators – though they have attended classes designed to aPchieve that status. Other county fee office officials gave workers similar rewards this year and last year, but Duncan is the only one to give the incentive payments to employees who have not graduated from the training program. And, he said, he intends to give the money to his employees next year, too, if they are still in the program — regardless of whether they are officially certified.
“I feel like if they show reasonable diligence in pursuing the program, then they should be rewarded for it,” said Duncan, who earns almost $107,000 a year in salary. “I have no problem at all rewarding people who are taking initiative and trying to improve their knowledge of the county and better serve the taxpayer.”
Knox County’s external auditor says the Trustee’s Office has made what it calls a $6 million accounting error and that the mistake could invite greater scrutiny into office operations, reports Mike Donila. Washington D.C.-based KPMG, in an email obtained by the News Sentinel and sent earlier this week to Knox County Audit Committee Chairman Joe Carcello, says the firm also is concerned that the error could have implications for Knox County’s annual audit and its “low risk” status.
KPMG partner Jack Reagan in the email said it took too long — four weeks — to compile information that makes up the Trustee’s Office’s portion of the county’s financial statements and that it “was significantly out of balance.” He also wrote that “personnel left town rather than investigate this difference further.” “It is apparent to me that this (Trustee’s) office does not put a high priority on the external financial statement audit,” he wrote.
Carcello said Friday he is not sure what to think. He doesn’t believe money is missing but said “there are more unanswered questions than there are answered ones, so I’m trying to wade through a lot of conflicting stories.”