The task force is a joint venture formed in the late-1980s by inter-local agreement between the district attorney general, county and participating municipal law enforcement agencies within Bradley, McMinn, Monroe and Polk counties. Operating funds come primarily from federal grants, drug fines and the forfeiture of drug-related assets to DTF, according to state audits.
Bebb chairs a governing board of 13 directors composed of him, all four county sheriffs and police chiefs of the participating cities within the counties. The district attorney has oversight of DTF.
According to stories published Aug. 27 and Nov. 10, 2010, in the Cleveland Daily Banner, Bebb appointed former Bradley County deputy Steve Lawson interim director Sept. 1, and the board of directors affirmed his permanent appointment on Nov. 9, 2010.
Lawson replaced Mike Hall who moved to Florida amid rumors of prescription drug abuse. Hall, in turn, had replaced Roxanne Blackwell, whose tenure began in November 2002. She replaced Jack Damoth, who served as interim director after TBI agents arrested Ken Wilson in September 2002 for simple cocaine possession. Wilson, according to Bebb, was subsequently imprisoned.
Hall denied the charges against him in a Banner story published Oct. 24, 2010. In that article, TBI spokesperson Kristen Helm “noted the task force is under a TBI investigation for ‘possible misconduct,’ however, Hall denied the allegations.”
According to the same story, “Helm said the investigation began after a request from the District Attorney General’s Office was made in June (2010). Bebb said Saturday evening during a phone interview that all agents with the DTF had passed their drug tests.”
The original file and all copies of investigations are property of TBI and are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act; and, the Law Enforcement & Special Prosecutions Division of the Office of the (State) Attorney General vigorously defend their confidentiality and TBI’s ownership.
Assistant District Attorney Stephen Hatchett and Bebb spoke to the Cleveland Daily Banner in a lengthy interview on Wednesday, Aug. 29, about the allegations surrounding Hall and final disposition of the case.
Hatchett said that prior to Lawson’s appointment, the DTF director had a great deal of latitude and the only documents the DA’s office saw were the annual audits. Under Lawson’s management, he continued, daily operations have changed since the TBI investigation into Hall.
Lawson recently explained that revamped organizational and policy standards now require documentation of all expenditures. In addition, a communications committee comprised of the district attorney and two voting board members provides more oversight of the task force during the time between quarterly board meetings.
“That was not the case before these changes were made,” Hatchett said. “It was common knowledge a year and a half ago there were some issues with spending. It’s not like it was a big secret. There was a story in the Banner about (Steve) Lawson coming in and making some changes and Mike Hall leaving. This was investigated. It was reported.”
Bebb said one issue that has not been reported, though the information was made available, is between 2006 and 2010, the only incident the drug task force was written up for was $3,000 that was stolen before he was elected. It was never proven who stole the money, but it had to be kept on the books and audited for three years before it could be written off.
“We’ve never had a write-up for anything — not one thing,” he said.
Hatchett said recent media reports create the appearance the DA’s office “approved of the way things were occurring under Director Hall and that’s not the case. We wouldn’t have asked for an investigation if we had approved of it. It has changed. It is better. There were issues. They’ve been addressed and that’s how money is spent now.”
According to Bebb, the question of task force spending began when Criminal Court Judge Amy Reedy made allegations of drug use by Hall.
“Stephen Hatchett, Walt Hunt and a nurse went straight to the drug task force and forced them to give hair and urine samples and no one at the drug task force was positive for any illegal substance,” Bebb said. “As a result of all these complaints, I filed a TBI request for an investigation after we got the 2010 ordinary audit with no findings (of criminal wrongdoing).”
The two most recent annual audit reports of the 31 judicial drug task forces did show accounting irregularities in five judicial districts, including the 10th Judicial District DTF. According to the audit summary, the district attorneys and representatives from the drug task forces reviewed the findings and recommendations with auditors.
The following are the findings and recommendations from the two previous years.
n “On February 2, 2012, agents seized drugs, drug paraphernalia, and $421 in cash. Although the seizure was documented on the appropriate forms, a forfeiture warrant was never obtained from the court. The agent in charge of the seizure was in the process of turning over his responsibilities to other agents because he was having surgery. The DTF did not follow through on the seizure and was required to return the $421 to the defendant.”
n “We received an allegation that an ADA (Dallas Scott) of the Tenth District Attorney General’s Office was using a DTF fuel card to fuel his personal vehicle. During our examination of this allegation, the district attorney general advised us that the ADA exclusively prosecuted DTF cases, and that the ADA used his personal vehicle for official business in-lieu-of driving a vehicle owned by the task force.
“Also, we were advised at the DTF and through our analysis of records maintained at the McMinn County Finance Office for the DTF that no documentation was on file to support a breakdown of the ADA’s vehicle use mileage between personal business and official business,” the report continued.
“Our examination disclosed from Feb. 11, 2010 through Jan. 25, 2012, the ADA charged a total of $4,091 on the DTF fuel card used in his personal vehicle. Section 8-26-109, Tennessee Code Annotated, requires government employees who are authorized to incur official expenses, which are to be paid by the government, to file itemized expense accounts showing the date and amount of each separate item and the purpose for which it was expended. The failure to account for a division of personal business and official business use mileage could lead to an abuse of fuel purchased,” the audit stated.
The auditor noted that to address the deficiency, DTF adopted a policy on March 1, 2012, requiring employees to submit mileage reimbursement claims when using personal vehicles instead of the DTF fuel card.
n In the year ending June 30, 2010, Hall received six travel advances totaling $311; however, the director also incurred DTF credit card charges totaling $698 for meals and incidentals covered by the same travel advances.
“It should be noted that the credit card charges included meals for other persons; however, based on the documentation provided, we could not identify the specific meals and incidentals incurred by the director,” the auditor noted in the report.
Auditors recommended that the former director “should” reimburse the $311 for the duplicate travel advances and an amount to be determined for credit card charges.
“Officials should reconcile travel advances with credit card charges and take steps to ensure that duplicate payments are not made. Officials should require detailed documentation to support all credit card charges,” the report stated.
n “During the year (ending June 30, 2010) we reviewed a total of $53,917 in credit card transactions. Of this total, 215 credit card transactions totaling $17,196 did not contain adequate documentation. In addition, we were unable to determine if these expenditures (meals, travel, lodging) were directly related to investigations and appropriate uses of drug task force funds,” according to the audit finding.
The audit recommended supporting all credit card purchases with detailed documentation and referenced to active cases. It noted the lack of detailed documentation increases the risks of fraud and abuse.
n “Our investigation identified the following deficiencies related to payments made for travel. These deficiencies can be attributed to the failure of management to adequately monitor and review travel claims,” the audit showed in the year ending June 30, 2010.
According to the report, numerous travel advances were paid to DTF agents; however, the agents did not file supporting documentation to account for expenses actually incurred.
In addition, several hotels were paid in advance for lodging; however, documentation was not filed to support the expenses. The audit recommended filing all supporting documentation to account for all travel-related expenditures, the report concluded.
In the Banner interview, Bebb said last Wednesday that he asked TBI to investigate any abuses of power and for a forensic audit after he became aware of the audit findings. The report was released to the public July 11, 2011. The district attorney revealed in a July 13, 2011, news story that he had also asked for a special prosecutor to look into DTF spending two months earlier.
“The TBI did investigate, along with the FBI,” Bebb said Wednesday during the interview. “We invited all of them and as a result of that investigation, because I had been involved with Mike Hall, we asked for a special prosecutor. At the same time, we had another investigation going on Duff Brumley and Judge Reedy. That investigation was completed and we referred that to a special prosecutor.”
The special prosecutor, Joe Baugh, presented the results of the DTF investigation to the Bradley County Grand Jury, which returned a no-bill. The special prosecutor in the Brumley-Reedy case did not make a presentation to the grand jury over Bebb’s objections.
Hatchett concurred. He said the DA’s office began investigating Hall for abuse of power, civil rights violations and police brutality — “... there was a laundry list of allegations,” the assistant DA said. One of the allegations was that “money was being spent on things it shouldn’t have been spent on” and that there were financial irregularities, Hatchett said.
“We said fine. Here’s the request. We gave it to the TBI to run down everything and some of them were just flat rumors,” Hatchett continued. “We told them to have at it and turn it inside out because at that time, the DTF was receiving federal money so the FBI came in and sat in on the investigation. They sat in on the interviews and the issues — whatever the issues, were turned over to the special prosecutor.”
Hatchett said it is difficult to explain the allegations of police brutality since most of them came from within the law enforcement community.
“Nobody ever filed an official complaint with any agency alleging police brutality; it came out of other law enforcement officers,” he said. “The brutality was unfounded. There were allegations of just flat-out stealing; unfounded, they never found any indication anybody was stealing money. We had directors in the past who had taken drugs. Ken Wilson took them out of the evidence locker so these allegations were taken seriously.”
According to Hatchett, the initial complaint was that Hall abused prescription drugs though the two DTF agents, Dax McGowan and Eric Allman, who made the allegations, never filed an official complaint with the DA, the city or county.
“We took it. We said, fine, nobody is going to accuse us of a whitewash. Nobody’s going to say we didn’t do our job,” Hatchett continued. “We gave it to the TBI. We said track it down.”
Hatchett, assisted by Walt Hunt, was in charge of the investigation conducted by TBI. During the course of events, Hatchett said McGowan refused to make a statement and resigned from the task force.
“I had breakfast with him and I applaud Dax for that,” Bebb said. “If you ask Eric today if he was intimidated, he’ll tell you ‘no,’ he’s ashamed they were gossiping. He called me and told me that.”
Allman, according to Hatchett, eventually stated Hall appeared to be intoxicated one day at work.
“He was not brow-beaten, humiliated, intimidated or anything like that. If it ever comes down to it, put me under oath. I’ll swear to it and Walt Hunt will swear to the exact same thing,” Hatchett said. “All we wanted was the truth.”
(Next: Tenth Judicial District Attorney General Steve Bebb addresses allegations that he and his administration over the years have shown favoritism in the prosecution of law enforcement officers.)