Charles C. Thompson II is a network news veteran, both as a founding producer of ABC's "20/20" and as Mike Wallace's producer at
CBS's "60 Minutes."
An experienced print journalist, Tony Hays' recent 20-part series on narcotics trafficking received an award from the Tennessee Press Association.More ↓Less ↑
Editor’s note: This is Part 2 of a three-part exclusive
WorldNetDaily investigative series on allegations that Vice President Al
Gore and his Tennessee associates have thwarted criminal investigations
involving friends and family members and have engaged in abuse of power
and illegal fund raising.
Part 1, “Al Gore’s Uncle Whit,” yesterday, WorldNetDaily revealed that Gore’s uncle and confidant, retired judge Whit LaFon, has been targeted as an alleged drug trafficker by federal and state law enforcement officials in Tennessee.
Part 2, in today’s edition, involves allegations that Gore has routinely relied on his longtime friend and supporter Larry Wallace, director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, to “take care” of criminal matters involving Gore’s family and friends.
The series was researched and written by native Tennessee reporters Charles C. Thompson II and Tony Hays. Thompson is a long-time veteran of network news, having been a founding producer of ABC’s “20/20,” as well as Mike Wallace’s producer at CBS’ “60 Minutes.” Hays is an experienced journalist whose recent 20-part series on narcotics trafficking received an award from the Tennessee Press Association.
Part 3 will be published in tomorrow’s edition of WorldNetDaily.
Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director Larry Wallace
SAVANNAH, Tenn. — According to a senior official with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the state’s premier law-enforcement agency, Vice President Al Gore Jr. routinely contacted his longtime friend and supporter TBI Director Larry Wallace for assistance with criminal matters involving Gore’s family and political cronies.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official stated that on at least four occasions during the past two years, while sitting in Wallace’s office, a secretary would enter the room and announce, “Director Wallace, Vice President Gore is on the line for you.” The official, who was intimately involved in criminal investigations, understood that the calls were related to criminal cases. According to this same source, Wallace frequently told senior staffers that Gore had put the arm on him to “take care” of criminal matters involving Gore’s “crooked [expletive] uncle,” retired judge Whit LaFon, brother to Gore’s mother, Pauline LaFon Gore.
LaFon, 82, who according to one senior political correspondent is “as close to Gore as you can get,” was apparently also in frequent need of protection from the TBI and other law-enforcement agencies. At least twice while LaFon was a state prosecutor and later a judge, federal prosecutors attempted to indict him for bribery and extortion under the federal Hobbes Act. He has also been under investigation by federal and state agencies for public corruption, alleged narcotics trafficking and desecration of a Native American burial mound.
The Gore campaign declined to answer questions about LaFon, who denied that he had any involvement with illegal drugs. LaFon recently bragged to the Sun newspaper in his hometown of Jackson, Tenn., that his nephew visited him often in Jackson and at his cabin on the Tennessee River and that his family shared a skybox with the Gore family during the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles.
Wallace had no comment for this story, despite repeated calls over a three-month period.
The fact that Wallace was helping Gore and his uncle was well-known among a number of TBI higher-ups, according to many former and current agents, as well as three past directors of the TBI. During Wallace’s tenure, the once highly respected TBI has been laid low by ever-increasing charges of institutional corruption, causing wholesale defections.
John Carney, who headed the TBI 10 years ago and is now the district attorney in Clarksville, Tenn., said, “The TBI is in sad shape. Nobody trusts it because it’s totally dominated by politics.”
Former TBI Director Arzo Carson, who drafted the 1980 legislation to take the TBI outside the governor’s control, agreed, saying he is “bitterly disappointed” with what Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has become.
“The TBI is really great for getting small fry, but for some reason, they are never able to make cases against the rich and famous, especially if these folks are politically well-connected,” said one federal prosecutor.
Wallace, a tall, rugged individual, began his law-enforcement career as a 20-year-old patrolman on the Athens, Tenn., Police Department in 1964. He then served with the Tennessee Highway Patrol for seven years before joining the TBI in 1973.
He was only a field agent for three years, but some of his contemporaries never forgot nor forgave what they considered his lack of courage in the face of danger.
Retired agent Bill Thompson said that Wallace once left him in the lurch by not showing up to arrest a multiple murderer, whose case was assigned to Wallace.
“Jimmy Dale Smith was the murderer. He was about the baddest character in rural eastern Tennessee back then,” Thompson said.
Thompson had learned that Smith would be playing poker in a club one night in the shadows of the Great Smokey Mountains. When Wallace failed to show to make the collar himself, Thompson positioned himself just inside the club and snared Smith when the killer arrived. He stuck his pistol in Smith’s neck and handcuffed him.
“I heard all about Larry Wallace’s cowardice. I knew better than to take him along as a back-up when there was going to be gunplay,” said George Haynes, another retired TBI agent.
“George Haynes and Bill Thompson are the real thing,” Carney said. “George killed at least two men in the line of duty, and Bill was there to back George up during one of those shoot-outs.”
According to Robert Lawson, the former commissioner of public safety and Wallace’s one-time boss, “Everybody in law enforcement knows that Larry Wallace isn’t going anywhere near where bullets are flying.”
Wallace left the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation in late 1976 when he was elected sheriff of McMinn County occupying that office for four years.
He returned to TBI in 1980. Seven years after Wallace’s return, he incurred the wrath of Carson, who suspected Wallace of leaking secrets from a 1987 federal grand jury to high-ranking members of then-Gov. Ned McWherter’s cabinet.
Wallace used family connections to become the uniformed head — colonel — of the Tennessee Highway Patrol, or THP. His then-wife Charlotte and her family were big in the Democratic Party. He asked his in-laws to intercede with the governor, and it worked. He landed the job.
According to former members of the Tennessee Highway Patrol, Wallace involved himself whenever a prominent politician had a traffic accident on a state highway or had a dust-up with the law. One such case involved state Sen. John Ford, who allegedly fired a pistol at a trucker on Interstate 40 near Lexington, Tenn., in 1990. Ford was a member of the powerful African-American Ford political dynasty in Memphis. A Dallas trucker reported the shooting to the Highway Patrol station in Jackson, Tenn., around 4:30 p.m. The Jackson troopers called Nashville headquarters for guidance, and according to a former THP official, Wallace said, “Don’t stop that car (Ford’s). Let it go.”
At this point, there was adequate time to apprehend Ford on the interstate and search his car for the weapon. But because of Wallace’s order, Ford escaped and wasn’t questioned until the next day. By that time, there was no pistol found in his Mercedes-Benz.
Although a bullet was recovered from the truck, Ford accused the trucker of making everything up. A jury in Jackson acquitted Ford of all charges.
Lawson said that he, like Carson before him, became convinced that Wallace was bootlegging highly sensitive criminal investigative material to politicians who were under investigation in order to curry favor with them.
The primary motivation for the TBI director selection committee and Gov. Ned McWherter to pick Wallace, according to former director Carson, was self-preservation.
“At that time, the TBI was feared by all politicians, regardless of their political party,” Carson said. “The bureau had sent many corrupt Tennessee officials (33 out of Tennessee’s 95 sheriffs) to jail. The politicians obviously thought that TBI’s fangs had to be pulled.”
What better way, Carson said, to control the TBI than have a weak individual head it, someone who would undermine the organization, keep the governor and other officials thoroughly apprised as to ongoing investigations and terminate politically sensitive investigations before they became public issues.
A sampling of aborted investigations under Wallace involving politicians as well as institutional cover-ups bears out Carson’s assessment of Wallace.
Among Wallace’s first acts as director was to abolish the agency’s highly regarded public corruption unit. Wallace went even further, ordering his agents never to open an investigation in any of Tennessee’s 95 counties without first notifying the sheriff, if the sheriff was the target of the investigation.
Rank-and-file agents and their supervisors were outraged.
“We were hamstrung. There was no way we could investigate a crooked sheriff anymore,” one supervisor said.
Wallace also allegedly interfered in the murder investigation implicating his own son, Larry Dean Wallace.
In 1994, at least three TBI agents and supervisors came to Wallace and told him that his son, Larry Dean Wallace, then in his late 20s, was heavily involved in drug trafficking.
When former TBI drug agent Milton Bowling told Wallace about his son’s drug dealings, the director reportedly became glassy-eyed and said, “You’re to stay away from this case.”
A year later, Larry Dean lay in ambush and shot to death James Edward Wilkerson over $1,500 that Larry Dean owed Wilkerson for drugs.
Larry Dean then loaded the body into the trunk of Wilkerson’s car and arranged to have a wrecker haul the car some 10 miles from the scene of the crime.
After confessing to second-degree murder, Larry Dean was sentenced to a 15-year prison term. Never imprisoned, he served his time in a cushy clerical job, all because, in the words of his attorney, Hal Hardin, “His father is the state’s top law-enforcement officer.”
Wallace faced a political quandary in 1994. His staunch supporter, McWherter, was retiring as governor and would not be able to help him when he came up for another six-year appointment as TBI director in 1998.
Bill Morris, the mayor of Shelby County (Memphis) was locked in a heated contest for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination with Phil Bredesen, the mayor of Nashville, and eight other candidates. Even though Morris appeared to be a winner, Wallace hedged his bets, hoping to be on the side that won.
But before Morris’ campaign left the launching pad, a bombshell landed. A hard-hitting series by investigative reporter Louis Graham of the Commercial Appeal newspaper in Memphis inspired a TBI criminal investigation of Morris. The newspaper documented 100 events since 1987 in which Morris allegedly used prison inmates to cater his political and personal social events.
Wallace sent his No. 2 man, Robert Reeves, to coordinate this delicate investigation and try to rescue Morris. TBI agents based in Memphis were upset by Reeves’ orders to investigate only two of Morris’ subordinates — his executive assistant, Robert C. Lanier, and Garner Branch, who was in charge of dietary services at the Shelby County Correctional Center — and to leave Morris alone.
Roger Moore, an assistant district attorney in Nashville appointed special prosecutor, worked hand in hand with Reeves. According to a well-placed source in the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office, Reeves presented evidence to the grand jury. But, according to one of the grand jurors, her fellow jurors became incensed by Reeve’s blatant attempts to insulate the mayor from blame.
“People (on the grand jury) were awfully mad,” the grand juror said, and they voted to indict Morris on six felony and three misdemeanor charges.
Reeves hastened back to Nashville to explain what happened to Wallace.
When Reeves emerged from Wallace’s 3rd-floor offices nearly four hours later, he was visibly shaken.
“Larry told me to go back to Memphis and unindict Morris,” said Reeves, according to a senior TBI official.
Five weeks later, rather than face the defiant grand jurors again, special prosecutor Moore and Reeves appeared before Criminal Court Judge Joseph B. Dailey and signed a motion dismissing all the charges against Morris. They left the indictments standing against Lanier and Branch.
“Why would they drop the charges against the mayor when my husband only did as he was instructed to?” Branch’s wife asked.
Both Lanier and Branch later pleaded no contest and were placed on probation. Reeves publicly rebuked them for not having “the courage to stand up in court and admit their guilt.”
Morris never recovered from the quashed indictments. Phil Bredesen beat him, who was in turn beaten by Republican Don Sundquist.
Secret test site for Hillary’s plan A lifelong Democrat, Wallace quickly switched his allegiance to the Republican Party with great fanfare. Although he kept close contact with many of his Democratic buddies, such as Gore, he began ingratiating himself with members of the Sundquist administration.
Early in the Clinton administration, while Hillary Clinton was unsuccessfully attempting to cobble together a nationwide health-care system, then-Gov. McWherter contacted Bill Clinton and Gore and volunteered Tennessee as a test site for Hillary’s health plan.
About 1.1 million poor and uninsured people were enrolled in the program. The federal government allowed Medicaid dollars to be diverted into TennCare, and the program quickly became the financial and criminal equivalent of the Black Hole of Calcutta.
Despite the fact that the state contributed more than 25 percent of its annual budget to the program, TennCare was still under-funded.
“We couldn’t get the big guys (insurance companies) in. We got the fly-by-nights,” said a federal prosecutor who has tried a number of TennCare fraud cases. “Many of these insurance companies who joined TennCare were just fronts for legislators, their families and other public officials who raked in money while the poor were denied services to which they were legally entitled.”
Wallace established a health-care fraud unit, which many TBI agents described as a joke. Even so, some members of the unit were aggressive and vigorously pursued those who bilked TennCare.
According to TBI agents and federal prosecutors, OmniCare, a health insurance company closely allied with the politically potent Ford family of Memphis, was one of the most scandal-ridden of the 12 managed-care organizations participating in TennCare.
In 1995, TBI agents arrested a Nashville woman who admitted forging more than 140 applications for TennCare while working as an independent contractor for OmniCare. Pamela Renee King said she obtained the data contained on the false applications while working as a fitness consultant in the health center at the sprawling Saturn automobile plant in Spring Hill, Tenn.
TBI investigator Shana Roberts said King was paid between $13 and $17 for each application. As long as the scam went undisclosed, OmniCare received $111 per patient per month for patients who didn’t exist or who were fraudulently enrolled in the program.
King was the second OmniCare representative to be caught by TBI agents in 1995. Harold McGhee, a former employee at the Shelby County Corrections Center, admitted to agents he had enrolled 202 inmates that he knew already had medical coverage and were therefore ineligible for TennCare.
Both King and McGhee were convicted of mail fraud and making false statements. Each received a sentence of about a year in prison.
‘The Fords had gotten him’ Although he wasn’t a company officer or a member of OmniCare’s board of directors, former Rep. Harold Ford was publicly identified in 1996 by the Commercial Appeal as being associated with OmniCare. Ford, an African-American, was first elected to Congress in 1974, beating a white incumbent. Ford’s district encompassed most of Memphis, which became majority black.
Ford had a rocky political career, and he allied himself and his family with Gore. He was indicted on federal bank, mail-fraud and conspiracy charges in 1987, stemming from $1 million of loans he had received from banks controlled by Democratic politician Jake Butcher and his brother C.H. Butcher. The money was loaned for business purposes, but was allegedly converted to personal use by Ford. His first trial resulted in a hung jury. A second jury acquitted him.
When the House banking scandal broke in 1993, it was revealed that Ford had written 388 bad checks totaling $552,447 at the bank between 1988 and 1991. Although he was one of the worst offenders, a special prosecutor’s probe found no criminal wrongdoing on Ford’s part.
Ford retired from Congress in 1996 and was succeeded by his son, Harold Ford Jr., a move that angered some local black leaders who resented the Ford family’s belief that the congressional seat belonged to them rather than to the people. At the time, Ford Jr. was only 24 years old, the youngest member of Congress. It was Harold Ford, Jr. whom Gore picked to make one of the Democratic convention’s keynote addresses.
In addition to Harold Ford Sr.’s older brother, John, a state senator, other Ford brothers who have been actively involved in family politics include: 1) Joe Ford, who ran for mayor of Memphis in 1999; 2) former state Rep. Emmitt Ford, who served time in a federal prison in the late 1990s for failure to file tax returns on income of $700,000; and 3) Dr. James Ford, an ophthalmologist, a member of the Shelby County Commission and a TennCare provider.
A hard-charging young TBI agent, David Loftus, who worked on the Shelby County Corrections Center portion of the OmniCare investigations, told his colleagues he was bound and determined to find out why the Ford family’s involvement in OmniCare was not being taken more seriously by the TBI.
“The evidence showed that the Fords were up to their eyeballs in OmniCare and yet nobody was holding their feet to the fire,” said Loftus. Even though an assistant U.S. attorney in Memphis warned Loftus to be more discreet “about what he said about the Fords or they will get you,” he continued to probe the Ford family’s involvement with TennCare.
Loftus had nearly finished his two-year stint as a probationary agent with TBI and had recently received an outstanding evaluation from his supervisor, when suddenly he was summoned to TBI headquarters and was summarily fired. No reason was given.
He was going boating that day with three of his colleagues on a lake near Nashville. The others were laughing and drinking beer when he arrived. They saw his long face and asked him what had happened. “I got fired,” Loftus said.
“I knew immediately that the Fords had gotten him,” one agent said. “There was no way that Larry Wallace was going to let a rookie agent upset the Fords.”
‘Good Ol’ Boys Roundup’ Agents say that TBI cover-ups weren’t limited to just protecting politicians.
In the summer of 1995, Tennesseans and the rest of the nation were dismayed by the news that a group of off-duty federal, state and local law-enforcement officers had gathered in May for an event known as the “Good Ol’ Boys Roundup,” where racist activities were apparently encouraged.
Camping along the banks of the Ocoee River in southeast Tennessee for three days of whitewater rafting and beer drinking, 300 law-enforcement officers and their friends, including federal and TBI agents, were exposed to some virulent racist displays.
Vendors sold T-shirts depicting the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in gun-sight cross hairs and others bearing the slogan “Boyz on the Hood” with police officers surrounding two black men spread-eagle over a police cruiser.
The reaction was swift from Washington. President Clinton denounced the roundup as “an event literally overflowing with racism.” Both the Justice and Treasury departments opened wide-ranging investigations.
Gov. Sundquist announced there would be an investigation of the roundup to be headed by Wallace. There was only one hitch — Wallace had reportedly attended the roundup.
Wallace handed over the day-to-day management of the investigation to his general counsel, David Jennings. Richard Brogan, TBI’s special agent in charge in Chattanooga, handled the fieldwork and some of the interrogations. Like Wallace, Brogan had also allegedly attended the roundup.
State arson investigators Robert Frost and Dennis Ledbetter said that Ledbetter provided Jennings with a statement putting Wallace inside the meeting grounds. Ledbetter said he cooked a steak for Wallace.
Agent Lee Porter wrote a memo stating that Brogan and his wife, Brogan’s assistant, Brooks Wilkins and his wife, and agent T.J. Jordan and his wife were present.
Jennings turned his investigative file over to Jeff Long, head of the intelligence division, for further processing. Long was one of the most respected senior officers in the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
Long, who subsequently resigned from the TBI and is now a prosecutor serving four counties in Middle Tennessee, said that Ledbetter’s statement and Porter’s memo were missing from the file Jennings gave him.
“Jennings told me that no further investigation was required. I took him at his word,” Long said. “In retrospect, I wish I hadn’t.”
During a televised news conference, Wallace reassured Sundquist, who appeared with him, that neither he nor any of his senior officers had attended the roundup.
Bat guano Another institutional cover-up, which is still haunting Wallace and the TBI, involves a substance known as bat “guano,” a genteel way of saying feces.
In 1994, the TBI sought accreditation from a nonprofit organization, the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc., or CALEA. Thousands of dollars of tax money and many hours of employee time were allocated to the project, headed by Jennings.
CALEA sets rigorous guidelines regarding an agency’s training, record management and storage of evidence. That last category appeared to be an insurmountable obstacle to the TBI’s accreditation. Evidence of upcoming cases and cases under appeal were spread willy-nilly in agents’ offices throughout the headquarters building.
This practice was strictly counter to state and federal court guidelines requiring a rigid chain of custody. Evidence was supposed to be logged in and preserved in a tightly controlled vault. TBI had a vault, but it was not nearly adequate to hold all the evidence.
Bulky evidence was stored in a separate building referred to as the old cafeteria. Two or three rooms in the building were filled with bat guano taken from a cave in the foothills of the Cumberland Mountains. This fertilizer had been advertised in nationally circulated magazines devoted to the drug culture.
Bat droppings are supposed to make marijuana grow faster and hardier. The guano is also guaranteed to work miracles on vegetable gardens and flowers.
The guano had been seized from Robert Senick, who ran a company called Bat Majic. At the time of the accreditation, Senick was awaiting trial on drug charges.
In addition to Senick’s exotic fertilizer, an elaborate hydroponic marijuana growing system was also crammed into the old cafeteria.
The day before the CALEA inspectors arrived, agents say that Jennings, along with Reeves, Wallace’s most trusted aide, decided to get rid of everything in the old cafeteria and also throw away or hide many other pieces of evidence.
Jennings and Reeves allegedly both looted piles of the Bat Majic guano for their own use. Reeves hauled a pickup truck full of bat dung away to fertilize his flower garden. Ten to 12 other employees helped themselves to the guano. These same employees also destroyed evidence, according to a TBI memo written after the event.
Bob Pearce, then TBI’s assistant director for administration, was seen carrying away five bulging duffels and three to four boxes of evidence. The boxes and bags contained hunting rifles, shotguns, pistols, assault weapons, sheaf knives, switchblades and bayonets, according to multiple TBI sources.
After the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation cheated its way through the CALEA exam, Pearce brought back just two of the boxes. Nobody is quite sure what happened to the rest of the evidence. Pearce, who has since retired and is a Baptist minister, refused to talk about the incident.
Agents say that evidence destruction occurred again in 1997 during CALEA’s re-inspection process. When WorldNetDaily first contacted CALEA, Steve Mitchell, the program manager for the TBI, was incredulous. Mitchell said he found it hard to believe that a state police agency would willfully destroy evidence.
When informed that documentation existed, he said, “That’s very serious, possibly a criminal matter.”
Mitchell later said that Wallace and Jennings told him that TBI destroyed evidence in 1994 and 1997. Did they obtain the requisite court orders before doing so?
“They told me they didn’t obtain court orders,” he said.
According to many former and current agents, drug cover-ups perpetrated under the Wallace regime undermined many agents’ morale.
‘The godfather’ In 1995, Butch Morris, one of the TBI’s best undercover agents, and his partner, Milton Bowling, were investigating reports that local law-enforcement officers and perhaps local prosecutors in the Cookeville, Tenn., area were providing protection to drug dealers and might even be involved in drug trafficking themselves.
In the course of their investigation, Morris and Bowling learned how hazardous it could be to run afoul of a Wallace political crony. Numerous law-enforcement sources said that Cookeville land baron Mike Gaw is a close associate of Wallace. Gaw owns 500 pieces of rental property in Putnam County (Cookeville).
“Mike Gaw is the godfather of Cookeville. He owns the whole town, the condos, apartment buildings and slum property,” a TBI official said.
Tennessee political reporters said that Gaw gained his power by contributing $70,000 to Sundquist’s two gubernatorial campaigns and that he became acquainted with Wallace through Putnam County Sheriff Jerry Abston, one of Wallace’s closest friends.
Morris infiltrated a Putnam County gang and served as its intermediary in buying a pound of methamphetamine from a Los Angeles group. He then arranged for the gang to buy up to 40 pounds of the drug, which had a street value of about $360,000.
Morris said the gang was connected “to some of the highest rollers in the community,” people who rubbed elbows with the sheriff, the prosecutor and Mike Gaw.
Shortly before he rounded up the gang members, Brogan, Morris’ TBI supervisor, stepped in and “put his investigation on hold.”
“We missed a chance to shut down one of the largest meth labs in the country and at the same time destroy a major Tennessee drug connection,” Morris said.
Five years after Morris was pulled off the case, a gung-ho FBI agent picked up the threads. Two defendants pleaded guilty to federal drug trafficking charges and another was convicted after Morris testified against him. Later, Morris tells WorldNetDaily, he was asked by an assistant U.S. attorney what had gone wrong back in 1995, in response to which Morris shrugged and looked at the ceiling as if to say, “it’s a very long story.”
Two years ago, Morris appeared before a state legislative investigative panel and publicly criticized TBI’s drug policy. The next day, TBI Deputy Director Reeves appeared before the same body and trashed Morris’ job performance. One of Reeve’s complaints was that Morris had misspelled an informant’s name. Morris later resigned from the agency and is now police chief in La Vergne, Tenn.
Sundquist reappointed Wallace to another six-year term in 1998, although Wallace received fewer votes from the “independent” selection committee than Jeff Long. According to published reports in the Tennessean and Associated Press, within a matter of hours after having received the committee’s recommendation, Sundquist, without comment, ignored the committee and reappointed Wallace.
Some members of the state legislature have become so disenchanted with the TBI’s desultory performance in catching drug dealers that there is now a serious legislative effort to abolish the agency’s drug unit.
Not long ago, TBI dispatched 49 agents to shut down a cockfight in eastern Tennessee.
“If the TBI doesn’t have the manpower to make serious drug cases, then how does it have 49 men to halt a rooster fight?” one top official said. “It’s high time to quit doing favors for public officials, even if they are the vice president of the United States, and get back to enforcing the laws fairly like we did before Larry Wallace came along. If we can’t do that, then it’s time to abolish the TBI and start all over.”
TOMORROW: In Part 3, senior Tennessee law enforcement officials says Vice President Al Gore killed a major drug trafficking investigation in their state that allegedly implicated several of Gore’s long-time friends and supporters.