crime

Second state prison inmate pleads guilty to running tax refund scheme behind bars

A second Tennessee prison inmate has pleaded guilty to filing bogus federal income tax returns using the names of other prisoners and collecting tax refunds that, for the two men combined, total more than $310,000, reports the News Sentinel.

 Larry Steven Covington Jr., 38, pleaded guilty Wednesday in U.S. District Court to conspiring to defraud the IRS while serving time in a Tennessee penitentiary and using fellow inmates’ Social Security numbers he apparently purloined…. Career criminal James Glenn Collins pleaded guilty in December 2014 to a similar scam, and court records suggest he may have taught Covington the ropes in deceiving the IRS.

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TBI investigating alleged voting violations in Bluff City elections

The TBI is investigating alleged voting law violations in the May 16 Bluff City municipal election for mayor and seats on the Board of Aldermen, reports the Kingsport Times-News.

Sullivan County District Attorney General Barry Staubus requested the TBI investigation after receiving information on possible election irregularities during the May election.

…”On June 19, I requested the TBI to conduct an investigation into the allegations,” Staubus said. “When the investigation is complete, I will review it and determine what action needs to be taken.”

Sullivan County Administrator of Elections Jason Booher said his office referred the matter to Staubus.

“It is the policy of the Sullivan County Election Commission to refer all perceived or alleged allegations of criminal behavior related to an election to the district attorney,” Booher said. “The integrity of elections are held to the highest standard in Sullivan County. I am not at liberty to comment on any matter that has been referred to the district attorney.”

TBI Spokeswoman Leslie Earhart confirmed the investigation and said no further comment would be issued because the investigation is active and ongoing.

Note: In the election, Mayor Irene Wells won another term with 138 votes to 130 for Carolyn Harris Payne and 35 for Cathryn Michelle Woomer, according to the county election commission website. Incumbent Aldermen Ray Harrington and Richard Bowling also won new terms.

Theft charge dismissed against former state Rep. Curry Todd in campaign sign theft

A theft charge against former state Rep. Curry Todd, who last year allegedly stole former state Rep. Mark Lovell’s campaign signs, was dismissed in Shelby County General Sessions Court on Friday, reports the Commercial Appeal.

Lovell’s failure to attend the hearing was cited as a reason for the dismissal. Todd was on hand, but declined comment.

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Legislative study committee to take a look back at TN lynchings

Tennessee is taking a tentative step toward acknowledging its legacy of lynching and other civil rights crimes, reports WPLN, citing a bill approved by the Legislature earlier this year.

In all, 238 Tennesseans are documented to have been lynched. The crimes include hangings, beatings and drownings.

State Rep. Johnnie Turner, D-Memphis, pushed a bill through the legislature this year that creates a study committee of three state representatives and three senators. (Note: It’s HB1306, sponsored in the Senate by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris). The group will hash out details — or even if the commission is something Tennessee desires.

Turner has no doubts.

“There are a lot of cases out there — unsolved, civil rights murders,” she says. “It is extremely urgent that we do something now before it becomes too late.”

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TN civil rights intimidation law challenged in gorilla mask protest at ETSU

The validity of Tennessee’s law prohibiting civil rights intimidation will be challenged by the attorney for a former East Tennessee State University student charged under the statute after appearing at a Black Lives Matter protest wearing a gorilla mask and carrying a string of bananas, reports the Johnson City Press.

Patrick Denton is representing Tristan Rettke, 19, who was also indicted on charges of disorderly conduct. A preliminary hearing on the charges was held Tuesday.

“This was a counter protest in a free-speech zone on campus,” Denton said after the hearing. “There’s no way that his free speech should have been criminalized. I don’t want to say too much because I don’t want to taint the jury pool.”

Rettke’s charges stem from a Sept. 28, 2016, incident when he showed up at a Black Lives Matter demonstration dressed in overalls and a gorilla mask while carrying bananas with string tied around them in a burlap bag with the Confederate flag on it.

The demonstration was held at Borchuck Plaza, outside Sherrod Library on the Johnson City campus, previously designated a free-speech zone. It’s supposed to be a location where students can freely express themselves without being harassed or intimidated. But several students participating in the demonstration said that’s exactly how they felt when the gorilla mask-clad man showed up — harassed and intimidated.

Criminal Court Judge Lisa Rice told prosecutors they should give notice to the state attorney general’s office about Denton’s promised motion. Because the motion will challenge the constitutionality of state law, the attorney general’s office will handle it on behalf of the legislature.

Memphis picked for program providing more federal aid in fighting crime

Memphis is one of 12 cities picked for a new anti-crime program being launched by the U.S. Department of Justice, reports Politico.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the coordinated help Tuesday from various branches of the Justice Department, including federal prosecutors in U.S. Attorneys offices, agents from the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration, and officials who oversee law-enforcement-focused grants.

“Turning back the recent troubling increase of violent crime in our country is a top priority of the Department of Justice and the Trump Administration, as we work to fulfill the President’s promise to make America safe again,” Sessions said as the Justice Department kicked off a two-day summit in Bethesda, Maryland, spotlighting strategies for cracking down on violent crime . “The Department of Justice will work with American cities suffering from serious violent crime problems.”

The initial round of cities selected for the newly-created Public Safety Partnership are Birmingham, Alabama; Indianapolis, Indiana; Memphis, Tennessee; Toledo, Ohio; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Buffalo, New York; Cincinnati, Ohio; Houston, Texas; Jackson, Tennessee; Kansas City, Missouri; Lansing, Michigan, and Springfield, Illinois.

The new program will include “diagnostic teams” aimed at identifying crime-fighting strategies for cities experiencing serious violent crime issues and “operations teams” that will embark on a three-year effort involving training, coaching, and increased collaboration between prosecutors, law enforcement and probation agencies.

Note: The announcement comes a week after Trump announced he has chosen Michael Dunavant, now a district attorney general in West Tennessee, to become the new U.S. attorney for the region. Previous post HERE.

DesJarlais among six congressmen on reported Hodgkinson ‘assassination list’

Tennessee’s Rep. Scott DesJarlais’ name was on a handwritten list of six Republican congressmen – all members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus — found in the van of James Hodgkinson, the slain shooter who wounded Rep. Steven Scalise and five others on Wednesday.

The Daily Caller initially reported the FBI’s discovery of the note late Friday. Multiple other media outlets have followed with similar reports.

Besides DesJarlais, Fox News says those on the “assassination list” were Republican Reps. Trent Franks of Arizona,  Jeff Duncan of South Carolina, Jim Jordan of Ohio, Mo Brooks of Alabama and Morgan Griffith of Virginia.

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Assault charge against Rep. Daniel to be dismissed under deal with prosecutor

An assault charge filed against state Rep. Martin Daniel, R-Knoxville, after he shoved an opponent during a broadcast forum last summer will be dismissed if he stays out of trouble for six months, reports the News Sentinel.

In an agreement with special prosecutor Jason Lawson of Wilson County brokered by defense attorney Gregory P. Isaacs, Daniel will not admit guilt and the assault charge against him will be dismissed after six months of good behavior.

The agreement was announced in a brief hearing Friday before Union County General Sessions Judge Darryl Edmondson, who was tapped to hear the case after Knox County’s judges recused themselves.

“The assault that never was will be dismissed,” Isaacs said after the hearing. “There was no entry of a plea by Rep. Daniel. Rep. Daniel is glad the taxpayers will not be spending any additional money on this unfortunate situation.”

Daniel was slapped with an assault charge after he and then-challenger Steve Hall, a former Knoxville city councilman (and former state representative), got into a shoving match in July 2016 during a live radio forum. Hall pressed the charge, not the Knoxville Police Department.

Note: A post at the time: HERE.

Fleischmann slightly injured fleeing ‘horrible’ shooting at congressional baseball practice

Tennessee’s Rep. Chuck Fleischmann was present when a gunman began shooting at a baseball practice session for congressmen today that left House Majority Whip Steve Scalise wounded, according to multiple media accounts. The third district congressman was slightly hurt while running to take cover from the gunman.

From Michael Collins’ report:

The Ooltewah Republican was shaken, but not hit.

“It’s just a madhouse here,” he said during a phone call from the scene. “It’s horrible. I’ve never experienced anything like that.”

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Haslam approves bill authorizing longer criminal sentences for illegal immigrants; Democratic leader ‘disappointed’

Gov. Bill Haslam signed into law Friday a bill authorizing judges to give illegal immigrants longer sentences that U.S. citizens when they are convicted of felonies. The bill (SB1260) got final approval on the last day of the legislative session (May 10) and has inspired some criticism – including talk of lawsuits to challenge it.

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