One of the most important responsibilities our office bears is to prosecute elected and public officials who violate federal laws and the public’s trust. Public corruption cannot be tolerated. When law enforcement officers are involved in committing crimes, their actions tarnish the entire community of dedicated public servants. The United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Tennessee has a proud tradition of prosecuting those who chose to violate their oaths of office and commit crimes. We work very closely with our law enforcement partners to ensure that our citizens receive the honest representation and protection they expect and deserve. Some of the recent public corruption prosecutions our office has undertaken include:
- Hamilton County Sheriff Billy Long was prosecuted in Chattanooga on drug conspiracy, firearms, money laundering, and extortion charges. Long was operating a “shakedown” of local business owners threatening to close down the stores of those who had promised campaign contributions but had not yet paid the full amount of the promises. Utilizing a cooperating witness, investigators quickly learned that Long was willing to commit other crimes for money. He agreed to provide protection and assistance in moving hundreds of thousands of dollars represented to be the proceeds of drug trafficking from Mexico into Chattanooga. He provided a badge and a gun to a convicted felon to help him commit crimes. And he physically assisted with the transportation of 10 kilograms of cocaine. Shortly after his arrest, Long resigned his position. He pleaded guilty to his offenses and received a 14-year prison sentence.
- Cocke County. From a FBI investigation known as “TRADIN’ PAINT,” our Greeneville office recently prosecuted 28 individuals for racketeering, drug trafficking, operating chop shops and other motor vehicle offenses, and insurance fraud in Cocke County, Tennessee. The prosecutions targeted Cocke County’s prolific car thieves and chop shop operators, criminals who acted with impunity because of corrupt local law enforcement. A primary target was Raymond Hawk, who operated the largest chop shop in the county for decades under the front of an auto salvage business. Hawk’s lieutenant, Grant Williams, and his brother Eric were the sons of a Newport Police Department captain, Milburn Williams, who protected them from law enforcement for years. The racketeering enterprise, involving well over thirty people, was responsible for several million dollars of stolen vehicles, mainly late model pickup trucks and SUVs, from Tennessee, North Carolina, and other surrounding states, and Hawk shipped stolen parts across the United States through his business. Through the use of cooperating individuals, wiretaps, and search warrants, the FBI was able to penetrate the inner circle of the racketeering enterprise. Most of the individuals have pleaded guilty and received sentences ranging from probation to 108 months. An October 2006 article in the Los Angeles Times asked “How bad is Cocke County’s reputation?” describing it as a “county of bad ol’ boys.” During a previous FBI investigation in Cocke County, “ROSE THORN,” 7 local law enforcement officers, to include the chief deputy sheriff, were convicted of crimes ranging from civil rights violations to drug trafficking and dealing in stolen property.
If you have information about public corruption in your community, please speak up. Both the TBI and the FBI have jurisdiction to investigate public corruption. For state officials, the TBI is the primary investigative agency. For federal officials, please contact the FBI.