TBI closes investigation into clerks' missing reprimands

By Natalie Neysa Alund knoxnews.com
State authorities have closed their investigation into the disappearance of formal reprimands issued to four Lenoir City assistant clerks found by an audit last year to have used City Hall's cash drawer as a personal ATM among other issues.

The decision follows a review by a Loudon County grand jury, which returned no indictment, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation spokeswoman Kristin Helm confirmed Monday.

In January, the News Sentinel obtained copies of July 2010 reprimands written by Bobby Johnson Jr., the city's former recorder/clerk/treasurer. Johnson wrote the reprimands to discipline clerks in his office. The paperwork was not in the personnel files during a public inspection by a News Sentinel reporter.

When the reporter brought the missing reprimands to the attention of Mayor Tony Aikens and City Attorney James Scott, they asked District Attorney General Russell Johnson to investigate. Shortly after, the prosecutor asked the News Sentinel to reveal who supplied the missing records. The newspaper declined to reveal its source.

"The answers to which we have been seeking now lie with the Knoxville News Sentinel and its reporter," the prosecutor said Monday. "We can't go any further."

Court documents show that before the grand jury met Aug. 8, it heard a full report from TBI Agent Jason Legg.

According to court papers, Legg interviewed the four clerks. They said they didn't know how the records went missing. Three clerks passed polygraph examinations. The fourth was willing to take the test but did not after a TBI polygraph operator denied her the exam based on her medical history.

The TBI also questioned Bobby Johnson and Debbie Cook, a former clerk/recorder/treasurer. Neither of them took a polygraph, court papers show.

"The investigation does not identify with sufficient evidence any one individual for prosecution," prosecutor Johnson wrote in a letter dated June 23 to Aikens.

Scott did not return a phone call Monday

He previously has said that prior to the viewing of records by the reporter, he had redacted personal information from the files per city policy.

The records produced by the reporter were not redacted, an indication that they were copies of originals that had been illegally removed from city hall, he said. He also suggested to the Lenoir City Council that they wait until the TBI probe was concluded before taking any potential legal action to determine the source of employee records obtained by the News Sentinel. The council in April voted unanimously to table the issue until the TBI investigation was complete.

Aikens did not return a phone call Monday to say when officials plan to discuss the matter further.

Johnson and Cook, who retired from her position in 2007, said they reprimanded clerks Shelley Herron, Rebekah Haydon, Julie Harvey and Jennifer Jackson for offenses that included falsifying time cards, writing faulty arrest warrants, sending pornographic email at work and cashing personal checks out of the city till.

An independent audit confirmed that the clerks sometimes cashed checks out of the City Hall cash drawer but did not immediately deposit the checks.

Both Johnson and Cook said they met resistance from city leaders when attempting to discipline the clerks.

Johnson told the TBI he was threatened by Councilman Eddie Simpson. Simpson has denied any threat was made, saying he discussed the issue of the clerks with Johnson and agreed that verbal reprimands would be sufficient.

Johnson abruptly resigned his elected post in December, taking a maintenance job with the parks and recreation department that paid $26,000 less. He cited personal reasons for his resignation, including stress.