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Comptroller Investigation Finds Hamblen Co. Solid Waste Director Stole More Than $225K

Press release from the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury; March 5, 2015:

A special investigation by the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury has revealed the former director of the Hamblen County/Morristown Solid Waste System stole at least $227,972 in system funds. Ronald Brady admitted to Comptroller investigators that he used the money for his personal benefit. This investigation was completed in conjunction with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

Investigators discovered Mr. Brady took system funds over a 3 ½ year period using several schemes. Mr. Brady issued unauthorized checks to himself totaling at least $196,206 from the solid waste system bank account and used the money for his personal benefit.

Mr. Brady also used the solid waste system’s American Express card to charge at least $31,785 in personal purchases. These purchases included vacations to Walt Disney World and other resorts, servicing his BMW and GMC Yukon, and a mattress that Mr. Brady requested to be delivered to his home. The charges were paid through the solid waste system’s bank account. Comptroller investigators also found Mr. Brady used solid waste system funds to make payments totaling $3,801 on a non-system credit card.

Mr. Brady destroyed, discarded, or altered solid waste system records to conceal his schemes. He was able to take the money without the knowledge or authorization of the solid waste system’s board. Ronald Brady resigned as director in February 2014.

On March 2, 2015, Ronald Brady was indicted by the Hamblen County Grand Jury on one count of theft over $60,000.

Comptroller investigators recommend the solid waste system implement checks and balances to ensure that one employee does not have complete control over a financial transaction from beginning to end. A credit card policy should also be established that allows all charges to be reviewed and documented.

“Solid waste customers make sacrifices each time they pay their bills,” Comptroller Justin P. Wilson said. “They must have confidence their dollars are being used appropriately, and it is shameful that a director would steal this money for his own gain.”

To view the special investigation online, go to: http://www.comptroller.tn.gov/ia/.

Norris: Haslam Budget Includes Funding for Additional TBI Forensic Scientists, Will ‘Expedite’ DNA Testing

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; February 12, 2015:

NASHVILLE –  Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) recognized the Haslam Administration for funding three new forensic scientists at the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) in next year’s budget. The TBI processes forensic evidence at no charge to local law enforcement.

“These funds will expedite the processing of rape kits and other DNA testing by providing additional essential personnel. They will be trained in accessing and updating the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) which is part of the FBI’s network for tracking perpetrators of crime — a critical weapon in the fight against crime,” said Norris, who sponsors the budget in the Senate.

Norris enacted the law repealing the Tennessee statute of limitations in rape cases last year. He also led the effort to require all local law enforcement agencies to inventory back-logged inventories of rape kits across the state. Last September, the TBI reported 9,062 kits remained untested statewide.

“Progress is being made getting the old evidence tested, but this will help facilitate more timely testing of all DNA evidence,” said Norris.

The TBI has not received funding for new personnel for many years, even though the demand for more resources has increased dramatically.

According to City of Memphis officials, an initial backlog of 12,000 kits has now been reduced by nearly 5,000 kits since 2013 and has resulted in some 170 new investigations and 52 indictments including 19 rapists.

Squabble Between TBI, Local Prosecutor Temporarily Stalls High-Profile Murder Investigation

A dispute between the attorney general of Tennessee’s 24th Judicial District and the head of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation briefly caused the agencies to sever ties. That meant TBI sleuthing was temporarily halted last week across a five-county area in West Tennessee — including their work on the closely watched Holly Bobo case.

Both the TBI and the office of District AG Matt Stowe said in a joint statement Friday that their row had been put to rest. Nevertheless, Stowe has asked that a special prosecutor be appointed to take over the Bobo case.

According to a Dec. 17 TBI press release, the dispute arose from comments made by Stowe during a Dec. 12 meeting that included the TBI and a number of prosecutors from West Tennessee.

Gwyn said Stowe made “allegations of misconduct by TBI and other law enforcement agencies, both local and federal.”

Stowe also “repeatedly stated he wanted our Agency to suspend all activities in his district,” Gwyn added.

Stowe issued a statement the same day saying he “strongly denies” that he “initiated the suspension of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s support.” However, Stowe also sent Gwyn a letter earlier in the week acknowledging that the meeting “became unexpectedly heated and somewhat emotional. ” In that letter he requested that the TBI resume service to his district.

Stowe, elected to his post in August, has been critical of how the Bobo case has been handled by authorities since her disappearance more than three and a half years ago. According to the TBI release, the agency has “devoted thousands of hours of casework and forensic analysis” to the Bobo case.

The 20 year old nursing student went missing in April 2011 from her family home in Darden, Tenn. Her remains were discovered this September in the northern part of Decatur County. Six individuals have been charged in connection with the crime.

Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich, whose office was supplying a prosecutor for the Bobo case, also released a statement acknowledging “a conflict arose as a result of how to proceed with the Holly Bobo case.” She added that the conflict led her to file a motion to remove their lawyer assisting in the case.

Adding to the tension between the TBI and the DA’s office, the judge in the Bobo case criticized the prosecution over how slowly the case was progressing.

During Gov. Bill Haslam’s budget hearings earlier this month, Gwyn told the governor he’s always striving to improve his agent’s training, because to “solve cases like Holly Bobo, you’ve got to have the very best trained agents in the county.”

The TBI is a great asset to the state because the agency can focus all of its energy on investigations, as opposed to a state police force that will have to handle traffic and other situations, Gwyn said at the hearing. He added that the agency will continue to “adhere to our policies and our procedures,” and wouldn’t “deviate” from its mission of investigations. “That’s what we do. And I want us to do it the best in the country,” he said.

The TBI, which has no official oversight body, operates on a sunset cycle and reports to the General Assembly every two to four years, depending on the findings of occasional Comptroller Office audits. The agency also reports to the governor during the state’s annual budget hearings.

Gwyn acknowledged to TNReport in December 2013 that the agency had no dedicated body for oversight of its actions. However, Gwyn asserted that the agency is “very regulated” and “scrutinized every day.”

“Well, I think the 6.4 million citizens, the Legislature, the governor, anybody that wants to oversee and make recommendations can make recommendations,” Gwyn said. He added the agency also goes “through audits all the time.”

State Sen. Mike Bell, an East Tennessee Republican who heads the upper chamber’s Government Operations Committee, told TNReport Friday that he didn’t foresee any changes being made to the oversight process for the state investigative agency. He added that while he’s heard “numerous” complaints about local law enforcement and drug task forces, he couldn’t recall many complaints about misconduct or corruption in the TBI during his time in state government.

Comptroller: More than $200K Stolen by Former TN Prison for Women Employee

Press release from the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury; September, 9, 2014:

A special investigation by the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury has determined that Mary Williams, a former Tennessee Prison for Women trust fund custodian, took at least $216,845 from inmate trust fund accounts during a 33 month period. The scheme was first exposed by the Law Enforcement Unit of the Tennessee Department of Correction’s Investigation and Compliance Unit. The investigation was performed in conjunction with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

Investigators discovered that Ms. Williams created fraudulent deposits into selected inmates’ accounts to make it appear as if those accounts had available funds. Ms. Williams then issued checks from those accounts, and used the money for her personal benefit. This was done without the authority or knowledge of the inmates or prison officials.

On September 5th, Williams was indicted by the Davidson County Grand Jury on one count each of theft over $60,000, forgery, computer fraud and official misconduct. She was arrested and booked into the Davidson County Jail on September 8th.

Investigators recommend that prison officials separate financial duties in the office. No single employee should have the authority to record deposits, direct withdrawals, and have access to completed checks. Allowing one employee to have complete control over a transaction increases the risk of fraud.

“Time and again we are finding that one individual has complete control over accounting functions,” Comptroller Justin P. Wilson said. “Our office is committed to protecting taxpayer money, and it’s important that adequate checks and balances are put in place to eliminate fraud, waste and abuse.”

To view the investigation online, go to: http://www.comptroller.tn.gov/ia/.

Witnesses Announced for Mid-Sept Criminal Justice Reform Hearing

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; August 26, 2014:

(NASHVILLE, TN) August 26, 2014 – Senator Brian Kelsey today released the names of the witnesses scheduled to testify regarding proposed criminal justice reforms in Tennessee. The hearing will occur before the Senate Judiciary Committee September 15 – 16.

“These experts will help us learn from other states how to best protect the public while saving taxpayer dollars. Our committee is privileged to partner with such talented witnesses in the effort to improve the criminal justice system in Tennessee,” explained Senator Kelsey.

The witnesses will provide testimony on the following three subjects: 1) Criminal Justice Reform: How we got where we are in Tennessee, 2) Criminal Justice Reform: What other states have done, and 3) Criminal Justice Reform: Suggested changes for Tennessee.

The scheduled witnesses for the hearings are as follows:

  • Sheriff Robert Arnold, Rutherford County
  • Beth Ashe, Executive Director, Tennessee Corrections Institute
  • Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper
  • District Attorney General D. Michael Dunavant, 25th Judicial District, Fayette, Hardeman, Lauderdale, McNairy, and Tipton Counties
  • Paige Edwards, Tennessee Public Defender’s Conference
  • Rebecca Silber and Nancy Fishman, VERA Institute of Justice
  • Tommy Francis, Tennessee State Employees Association
  • Mayor Terry Frank, Anderson County, Tennessee
  • Commissioner Bill Gibbons, Tennessee Department of Safety
  • Mark Gwyn, Director, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation
  • Marc Levin, Director, Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation
  • Mayor Mark Luttrell, Shelby County, Tennessee
  • John G. Malcolm, Director, Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies
  • Richard Montgomery, Chairman, Tennessee Board of Parole
  • Justin Owen, President/CEO, Beacon Center of Tennessee
  • Chief David Rausch, Knoxville Police Department
  • David Raybin, Esq., criminal defense attorney
  • Justyna Scalpone, Tennessee Office of the Post-Conviction Defender
  • Commissioner Derrick D. Schofield, Tennessee Department of Correction
  • Chris Slobogin, Professor, Vanderbilt College of Law; member, Tennessee Consultation on Criminal Justice
  • District Attorney General Barry Staubus, 2nd Judicial District, Sullivan County, Tennessee
  • Thomas E. Tique, Chief Deputy Attorney, Tennessee General Assembly Office of Legal Services
  • Commissioner E. Douglas Varney, Tennessee Department of Mental Health
  • Hedy Weinberg, Executive Director, ACLU of Tennessee
  • Charlie White, Director, Tennessee Association of Professional Bail Agents
  • Judge John Everett Williams, Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals

Senator Kelsey represents Cordova, East Memphis, and Germantown. He is Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

TBI Looks to Raise Awareness of Human Trafficking

Press release from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation; August 18, 2014: 

NASHVILLE – Today, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation officially launched a new outreach to raise awareness of human trafficking in Tennessee.

The campaign, titled “IT Has To Stop,” hopes to increase awareness of human trafficking in Tennessee and beyond. The centerpiece of the campaign, ITHasToStop.com, features information, current research and statistics, video, important contacts, and links for visitors to join nonprofits and other groups in the efforts to curb trafficking in Tennessee. Visitors can also connect with the campaign on designated Facebook and Twitter accounts.

“Human trafficking is modern-day slavery, it’s unacceptable, and it’s a crime in Tennessee,” said TBI Director Mark Gwyn. “We hope TBI’s new public awareness campaign sheds some much-needed light on the issue, so we can increase the number of people who insist it has to stop in our state and beyond.”

Research by The Polaris Project, a national leader in the fight against human trafficking, indicates it to be one of the fastest-growing criminal enterprises in the United States. The U.S. Department of Justice and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimate the number of children bought and sold in the country for the purpose of sexual exploitation to number at least 100,000. The average age of a trafficking victim is 13.

“Tennessee has recently been recognized for great strides in enacting laws to protect survivors of trafficking,” said Gwyn. “We also have trusted nonprofits on the frontlines of this troubling fight. Now, we hope this new effort is our state’s next step to rally public support and increase awareness of this kind of crime and the way out for those trapped.”

The site is available for review at www.ITHasToStop.com.

Haslam Creates Task Force on Sentencing, Recidivism

Press release from the Office of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam; August 14, 2014:

Group to develop legislative and policy recommendations

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced the formation of the Governor’s Task Force on Sentencing and Recidivism as part of the administration’s overall effort to reduce crime and improve public safety.

In June, the Governor’s Public Safety Subcabinet announced a partnership with the Vera Institute of Justice to review sentencing and correction policies and practices. The creation of a task force is the next step in that collaboration.

“We have put a strong emphasis on addressing some of our state’s toughest safety challenges head on, and the Public Safety Subcabinet is doing great work,” Haslam said. “This task force is a next step in making sure we have a comprehensive approach to public safety in Tennessee. I am grateful to the Tennesseans who have agreed to dedicate their time to these issues, and I look forward to their recommendations.”

Members of the task force include:

  • John Campbell, criminal court judge, Memphis
  • John DeBerry, state representative, Memphis
  • James Dunn, district attorney general, 4th judicial district
  • Tim Fuller, sheriff, Franklin County
  • Bill Gibbons, commissioner, Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security
  • Mark Gwyn, director, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation
  • Kim Helper, district attorney general, 21st judicial district
  • Torry Johnson, district attorney general (retired), Nashville
  • Brian Kelsey, state senator, Germantown
  • William Lamberth, state representative, Cottontown
  • Linda Leathers, chief executive officer, The Next Door
  • William B. Lee, chief executive officer, Lee Company of Tennessee
  • Jon Lundberg, state representative, Bristol
  • Mark Luttrell, mayor, Shelby County
  • Becky Duncan Massey, state senator, Knoxville
  • Gerald Melton, public defender, 16th judicial district
  • Richard Montgomery, chairman, Tennessee Board of Parole
  • Seth Norman, criminal court judge, Nashville
  • Bill Oldham, sheriff, Shelby County
  • David Rausch, chief of police, Knoxville
  • Derrick Schofield, commissioner, Tennessee Department of Correction
  • John Stevens, state senator, Huntingdon
  • Blair Taylor, president, Memphis Tomorrow
  • D. Kelly Thomas, court of criminal appeals judge, Knoxville
  • Doug Varney, commissioner, Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse
  • Amy Weirich, district attorney general, Shelby County
  • Verna Wyatt, executive director, Tennessee Voices for Victims

The current sentencing structure in Tennessee has been in place for more than 20 years. An examination will ensure that the structure is in line with the variety and severity of criminal behavior. Establishing an effective set of sentencing laws can resolve inconsistencies and avoid discrepancies that compromise public safety.

The task force will receive assistance from the Vera Institute of Justice’s Center on Sentencing and Corrections. Vera staff will conduct data and policy analysis; identify expertise and resources to support the work of the task force; facilitate meetings and assist in the development of the task force recommendations.

The Vera Institute of Justice is a national, independent, non-partisan justice policy and research organization based in New York. Vera has decades of experience partnering with state and local governments across the United States to improve justice systems.

The task force will submit its recommendations to the Governor’s Public Safety Subcabinet by June 2015.

The subcabinet was created by Haslam in 2011 and launched a multi-year public safety action plan in 2012. The group includes commissioners of the departments of Safety and Homeland Security, Correction, Mental Health, Children’s Services, Health and Military, along with the chairman of the Tennessee Board of Parole, directors of the Governor’s Highway Safety Office, Office of Criminal Justice Programs, Law Enforcement Training Academy and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

Comptroller: Fmr. Wayne County Education Staff Responsible for $320K Shortage

Press release from the Office of the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury; July 29, 2014:

Four former employees of the Wayne County School Department are to blame for a $319,134.58 shortage in school accounts. The Comptroller’s Office, in conjunction with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Internal Revenue Service began investigating after comptroller auditors discovered discrepancies during their annual audit.

Investigators confirmed the former grants coordinator and three former bookkeepers received $183,474.25 in unauthorized payroll payments and classified them to teacher salary account codes. These payments were in addition to their budgeted salaries.

Investigators also uncovered personal purchases on the School Department’s Wal-Mart credit cards. These purchases included more than $77,176.69 in gift cards and related fees, as well as $58,483.64 in groceries and personal items. The credit cards were assigned to the former General Purpose School Fund bookkeeper.

The investigative report outlines several concerns with the school system’s money-handling practices. Managers should ensure that no employee has complete control over payroll duties, and managers should regularly review credit card purchases.

School leaders indicate they have implemented new checks and balances to prevent a recurrence.

“There is no place for fraud, waste and abuse of taxpayer money in government,” Comptroller Justin P. Wilson said. “While these findings are troubling, I am hopeful that changes are being made to correct the problems we’ve identified, and restore trust in the School Department.”

To view the investigation online, go to: http://www.comptroller.tn.gov/ia/.

Fmr Bedford Co Sex Offender Registry Officer Took $30K in Public Funds for Personal Use

Press release from the Office of the Tennessee Comptroller; December 18, 2013:

A woman formerly charged with making sure sex offenders in Bedford County were properly registered and monitored took more than $31,000 in sex offender registration fees over six years for her own personal use, an investigation by the Comptroller’s office has found.

Under Tennessee law, convicted sex offenders are required to register with the local law enforcement agencies in their home communities and also report any changes of address. The information provided through that process is maintained on a statewide database of sex offenders.

To cover the administrative expenses required to maintain the database, each sex offender is required to pay an annual fee, which is now set at $150. A portion of the collected fees are used by the local law enforcement agencies, while the rest are forwarded to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

The Comptroller’s investigation, which is detailed in a report released today, examined the operations of the Bedford County Sheriff’s Department’s sex offender registry office from 2006 through 2011.

During that time period, investigators determined that at least 158 sex offenders should have paid fees totaling $42,198. However, the former registry officer, Rebecca Hord, only turned over $10,738 to the sheriff’s department – keeping at least $31,460 for herself. (Because of incomplete recordkeeping, investigators say the total number of offenders and the amount of missing fees could actually have been higher.)

The Comptroller’s investigation was conducted in coordination with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

Investigators also concluded that Hord had forged the sheriff’s signature on some documents declaring some sex offenders to be indigent. And investigators said the department didn’t provide adequate oversight over the sex offender registry program because it failed to follow up when offenders weren’t paying fees and didn’t require offenders to report to the department in person.

Hord was indicted by the Bedford County Grand Jury on charges of theft, forgery and official misconduct earlier this week.

“Some people might not be concerned about the loss of these fees paid by convicted sex offenders, but they should be,” Comptroller Justin P. Wilson said. “For public safety, it’s extremely important that we have mechanisms in place to track sex offenders after they are released from prison. The sex offender registration fees are supposed to cover the cost of that monitoring effort. So to the extent those fees aren’t available, money from other sources might need to be used to cover those expenses. I commend the work of our investigators and those from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation on this case.”

Results of the investigative report can be viewed online at http://www.comptroller.tn.gov/ia/.

Metro Nashville Teachers Offered Credit Monitoring Services by Treasury Dept.

Press release from the Tennessee Department of the Treasury; December 18, 2013:

Last Thursday evening, Treasury officials discovered that a former Treasury employee for the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System had downloaded a file that included personal information of active Metro Nashville teachers from a work computer to his personal computer.

The investigation by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is ongoing and a report from the forensic examination of his computer and devices is expected soon. The Treasury Department believes this is an isolated incident and that the information has not been shared.

The Treasury Department is providing free credit monitoring services for all Metro Nashville teachers who wish to enroll. The department is engaging a service to provide written notification to each of the teachers affected.

This notification will contain details regarding the free credit monitoring services and a hotline phone number for teachers to call and receive up-to-date information or discuss concerns.

State Treasurer David H. Lillard, Jr. met on Monday with the director of Metro Nashville Public Schools and continues to meet with school leaders and teacher organizations to seek their input and to assure all steps are taken to assist affected teachers.

The department has competently handled sensitive personal information in the retirement system since 1945. During Treasurer Lillard’s tenure he has heavily emphasized compliance and security of information and the department has taken numerous steps to continuously and substantially improve security of personal data in Treasury operations.

“Our main concern at this point is to address concerns of active Metro Nashville teachers,” Treasurer Lillard said. “The initial review clearly indicates this occurred due to the actions of one employee who wrongfully downloaded this information. The Treasury Department is immediately implementing measures to correct this isolated occurrence in personal data security.”