State comptroller questions sale, purchase of landfill excavator

Published 4:16 pm Thursday, March 22, 2018

Tennessee Comptroller Justin P. Wilson released a report Thursday on his investigation into the sale and purchase by Claiborne government of a used excavator in May of 2016.

The report states the ‘questionable’ transaction was determined by investigators to have benefited a county commissioner.

“On May 3, 2016, Claiborne County issued a $50,000 check to the commissioner’s cousin for the excavator. Subsequently, the check was deposited by the county commissioner’s wife and daughter into their joint bank account. On May 9, 2016, the wife and daughter transferred $16,260.75 to pay a personal loan of the county commissioner, and the next day they transferred $32,647.29 from their account into a joint bank account owned by the commissioner and his wife,” states the report, in part.

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According to the report, investigators were told by the director of the Solid Waste Department that he dealt only with the county commissioner, during the transaction.

The county commissioner initially denied receiving money from the purchase. Later, he recanted his statement, and admitted he had received the funds when confronted with the bank transactions, according to the report.

“The commissioner stated he gave his cousin back the majority of the excavator sale proceeds in cash installments, with the exception of funds his cousin owed him from prior business dealings. Investigators were unable to determine the validity of those installments due to the cousin’s death in February 2017,” reads the report, in part.

The county commissioner, states the report, abstained from voting on approval of the purchase, but failed to disclose he would receive money from the transaction, creating a conflict of interest.

During the investigation, it was also determined that county funds were used to pay for repairs on the excavator, prior to its purchase. Repairs should only be made on county owned assets, according to the comptroller.

John Dunn, public information officer for the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office, stated in an email to the Claiborne Progress that his office does not typically name the individuals in the reports, unless there is a criminal indictment.

“Since this has not occurred, the person is not named,” Dunn states, in the email.

The findings and recommendations for this investigation were shared by the Comptroller’s Office with Jared Effler, the District Attorney General for the 8th Judicial District.

The Progress is following this story closely, and will have more information, as it becomes available.