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 the third report in an exclusive
WorldNetDaily investigative series on corruption allegations involving
Vice President Al Gore and his Tennessee family, friends and supporters.
In Part 1, “Al Gore’s Uncle Whit,” Monday, 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, “Gore plays fixer to ‘crooked’ uncle” in yesterday’s edition, involves allegations that Gore has routinely leaned 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.
In Part 3, senior Tennessee law enforcement officials say Gore killed a major drug trafficking investigation in their state that allegedly implicated several of the vice president’s long-time friends and supporters.
The series was researched and written by native Tennessee reporters Charles C. Thompson II and Tony Hays. A long-time veteran of network news, Thompson was 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.
SAVANNAH, Tenn. — If you were rich and politically connected in Hardin County, Tenn., and were under scrutiny for drug dealing by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, or if you needed a permit from the Tennessee Valley Authority to run a sewer line on your property abutting the bank on Pickwick Lake, you might have gone to two of Al Gore’s money men to get things straightened out.
Take those pesky TVA permits that encompassed everything from your right to cut down a tree on your property to dredging a boat slip or building a dock. These permits were costly and time-consuming, and sometimes seemed unobtainable.
According to Benny Austin, owner of the largest real estate agency in Savannah, the county seat of Hardin County, until very recently the best person to expedite those permits was Clark Jones, a Savannah car dealer and a key fund-raiser for Gore, who raised more than a $100,000 for the vice president last year.
Jones took contributions for Gore in return for handling TVA permits, according to Austin, who added that the potential scandal “has been swept under the rug.”
Another major realtor who spoke on condition of anonymity said a second fund-raiser and longtime friend of Gore also obtained TVA permits for properties that weren’t eligible.
“I checked it out and found that these permits should never have been granted,” he said.
The fund-raiser, Paul Callens, 57, a wealthy real estate broker, controls a great deal of the desirable building lots around Pickwick Lake. These lots sell for $69,000 for an off-water lot, while a waterfront lot begins at $159,000. Callens’ company handles the sales of many of the opulent estates situated on the gently rolling hills surrounding the lake.
Callens’ and Jones’ access to Gore allowed them to obtain lucrative federal assistance from Gore and his aides. A problem with barges cluttering Pickwick Lake disappeared after a Callens contact with Gore and Sen. John Stennis, D-Miss.
Given this background, it is not surprising that when last year the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation began narcotics-trafficking investigations against Jones and Ron Harmon, a sitting chancery court judge, Jones allegedly went to Gore to have the investigation killed. The embarrassing and politically dangerous state probe was suddenly terminated last year just 10 weeks after it began by the director of
the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Larry Wallace, another of Gore’s close associates.
According to current and former TBI officials, that is business as usual at the agency. In fact, those officials say Wallace has routinely spiked investigations that could be harmful to politicians or that involve law enforcement officials — especially those involving Gore.
Sources within the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation say Gore and Wallace have been in frequent contact over the past eight years. WorldNetDaily asked Wallace for his correspondence with Gore and his aides involving TBI investigations and were told “no such correspondence exists.”
Ed Holt, deputy director of the TBI, said Wallace killed the Hardin County drug probe because the agency was unable to develop an informant.
“You know there was an opportunity at one time for a drug investigation down there, but we couldn’t take it anywhere, because we couldn’t get any informants, ” Holt said.
“That’s total bulls–t!” responded Butch Morris, a former top narcotics agent with the TBI. Local and federal sources agree with Morris, saying bureau agents were spoonfed documentation and key informants, but never used them.
Community leaders in Hardin County, center of the TBI inquiry, claim that the investigation was terminated prematurely after an unusual meeting between an alleged suspect, Jones and the TBI agent in charge of the investigation, Roger Hughes.
According to members of the 24th Judicial District who worked with the FBI, the federal agency began the investigation last fall. The federal Drug Enforcement Agency and the U.S. Customs Service have opened their own investigation of the case. Holt confirmed that after his agency halted the investigation in the spring of 1999, FBI special agents questioned him about some of the TBI’s suspects.
However, the federal agents added another suspect, according to two local law enforcement officials who are part of a narcotics task force assisting the FBI. They identified him as Whit LaFon, Gore’s
crusty old uncle, a former state judge who peppers his conversation with racial epithets such as “nigger.”
The genesis of TBI’s Hardin County drug investigation was the overdose death of a 20-year-old Savannah man, John Riddell. Riddell had been at a party on Dec. 29, 1998, at a friend’s house in a secluded area of Hardin County known as Bruton Branch.
According to his autopsy report, John had ingested three prescription drugs. He aspirated his vomit and then choked to death. His parents, David and Jane Riddell, were painfully aware of their son’s addiction.
They had tried twice without success to get John to straighten up. He remained just one night in a rehabilitation facility and then agreed to stay for the full 28 days of treatment at another. However, he was soon back on the streets of Savannah abusing drugs. John Riddell’s death in the rural west Tennessee county sparked a ripple effect, and the tremors are now reaching the national stage.
An avalanche of drugs Hardin County’s geography makes it an inviting target for drug traffickers. Bisected by the Tennessee River, it is a natural way station for barges hauling drugs from the Gulf of Mexico.
In recent years, widespread dope dealing has become an unwanted way of life on the streets of Savannah and the back roads of Hardin County. Police Chief Don Cannon said he has seen an avalanche of drugs during his 33 years on the police force.
During Cannon’s tenure, heroin, speed and cocaine replaced marijuana and uppers and downers as the addicts’ drugs of choice.
Police estimate that seizures of cocaine account for about 10 percent of the total supply. Federal agents estimate that some $2.3 million worth of cocaine goes through Hardin County each week, or more than $100 million per year. Lawmen say that profit on an ounce of cocaine runs about $1,200, or about $7,000 a week profit for street dealers.
Methamphetamine usage is totally out of control, officers say. Users can often be violent, according to former Hardin County Deputy Sheriff Larry Phelps.
“You don’t know when you come crashing in a door on a meth raid, whether the person inside is going to shoot you or kill himself,” Phelps said.
The vast amounts of money generated in Hardin County each year seem out of place for a small, rural county, which has a population of only 25,000. And especially so for Savannah, which only has 6,000 residents.
“There are more dealers now, more of everything. But what can I do? I have three or four patrolmen on each shift,” Cannon said.
One major problem, according to the chief, is that state and, until recently, federal law enforcement agents rarely visit Hardin County, much less investigate anything relating to drugs there.
Given the high level of drug abuse in Hardin County, it’s amazing that John Riddell’s drug overdose death was even noticed.
However, John’s parents were prominent members of Savannah’s business community, and they vowed to get the TBI or the FBI to conduct a thorough investigation of drug dealing in Hardin County. The Riddells own three Piggly Wiggly grocery stores in the Savannah area. Jane Riddell is a former high school teacher and a member of the Savannah School Board.
On the cold, rainy night of Jan. 7, 1999, 1,500 people packed Savannah’s city hall to listen to a mixture of old-time religion and fire-eating anti-drug rhetoric.
The Riddells spoke and then Randy Isbell, a photogenic Baptist minister, took over.
“We’re not talking about vigilante justice — yet,” Isbell exclaimed, inserting a pregnant pause between the words “justice” and “yet.”
The crowd sensed that Isbell, pastor of Hopewell Baptist Church, was slyly informing them that vigilante justice might be OK sometime soon, and it roared its approval.
Out of that meeting grew a coalition of citizens, determined to establish a permanent drug awareness organization called Community Partners. The organization’s primary goal was to educate the area’s youth about drugs and their dangers and to enhance and cooperate with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies’ investigations of drug dealing in Hardin County.
Randy Rinks, a well-respected state representative, attended this meeting and was so impressed by the fervor of the crowd that he called Larry Wallace and suggested that the TBI should talk to the Riddells, Rev. Isbell and others and open an investigation.
Wallace promised Rinks that he would have his agents in Jackson contact the Riddells and other members of Community Partners.
On Jan. 6, 1999, the Riddells received a call from John Mehr, special-agent-in-charge of the TBI’s office in Jackson. Mehr asked them to drive to Jackson that day for a meeting. He warned them not to discuss the meeting with anyone else. They bundled up their son’s telephone records, tapes, and other information and despite the icy and hazardous roads they went. The matter was too important to let the weather stand in the way.
The Riddells told Mehr and the other agents that even though they were devastated by their son’s death, they had resolved to do everything in their power to stop the drug dealing at all levels.
“The TBI agents were aggressively interested; they asked a lot of questions,” Jane Riddell said. The Riddells provided information and documentation about their son’s drug addiction and acquaintances.
Jane Riddell and her husband left the meeting feeling that the TBI agents were serious professionals who would do a good job.
The investigation Rep. Rinks had sparked with his phone call eventually centered on two individuals:
1) Clark Jones, 43, owner of three car dealerships in Savannah, Tenn., and Corinth, Miss., is a close friend of Gore and has been a political contributor for nearly 20 years.
2) Ron Harmon, 50, a state chancery court judge from Savannah, has been a political backer of Gore for 20 years, donating and raising thousands of dollars for Gore’s congressional, senatorial and presidential campaigns. Harmon has also lunched or dined with Gore during his visits to Savannah.
According to Robert Lawson, former Tennessee Public Safety Commissioner and, as such, also in charge at that time of the Tennessee Highway Patrol, Clark Jones’ name was listed on the TBI’s computerized files in the late 1980s and early 1990s as an alleged dope dealer. He is currently listed in computerized federal intelligence files as a “suspected drug dealer.”
Jones has often boasted to the people of Hardin County about the many honors he has received as a result of his friendship with Al Gore.
For example, he was appointed to the eleven-member White House Conference on Small Business Commission in 1993.
And he was present when more than 2,000 businessmen and women heard Gore heap praise on him on June 14, 1995, at a White House Conference on Small Business held in Washington.
Ron Harmon, elected to the bench in 1998, is a wealthy land speculator and silent partner in a trucking firm. During its investigation, law enforcement officials say, the TBI looked into the activities of the trucking company. The operation is located in a large cow pasture adjacent to an isolated two-lane, blacktop road. Some of its trucks allegedly transported cocaine, heroin, marijuana and illegal aliens from a subsidiary operation located along the Mexican border all over the United States.
Jones, Harmon and Gore’s uncle Whit LaFon, in addition to their link to Gore, shared a link to another sinister character by the name of Junior Sweat. Sweat, 61, an arsonist par excellence and a master methamphetamine manufacturer, was busted for operating the largest methamphetamine lab ever discovered in the state. He died in prison shortly afterward, in July 1999.
Law enforcement officials told WND that Sweat, a nasty-tempered but highly proficient arsonist and convicted cocaine trafficker, divided his time between cooking his deadly drug and hanging around the Jones Motor Company dealership.
In the months preceding the raid on his lab, Sweat was frequently on the phone with state Judge Ron Harmon, another alleged suspect in TBI’s truncated probe. Sweat’s widow, Janice Walker, said Sweat would shoo her out of the room and lower his voice when on the phone with Harmon.
And when Junior was arrested in June in the raid on his meth lab, he asked Walker to call “the only (attorney) who can get me of jail.” The lawyer, she said, was LaFon.
“Junior was so good he could burn concrete,” Chief Cannon said. “He could be mean, violent. He owned a beer joint in Wayne County, Tenn., and later on they dug bodies up out back.”
Whenever he wasn’t locked up, Sweat closely allied himself with Jones and his family.
He was managing a farm owned by Clark’s father, Claude Jones, when Claude died in 1973. Shortly after Claude Jones’ funeral, Junior moved in with Clark’s mother, Joanne Jones. He remained with her for some eight years before returning to prison.
A number of residents of Savannah told WorldNetDaily that during Junior’s years with Joanne Jones, he became almost a surrogate father to Clark and his younger brother, Charlie. They say that Clark and Charlie referred to Junior as their “uncle” or their “step-father.”
Clark Jones adamantly denied that he ever used those terms of endearment or enjoyed a close relationship with Sweat. “Junior was a very bad person. He had a relationship with my mother, a very terrible relationship. I hated that son of a bitch,” he told WND.
Despite these harsh words, police sources say Clark Jones allowed Junior to hang around the showrooms of his two Savannah dealerships four days a week. Cannon said Junior used the remaining three days of the week to cook methamphetamine.
Although Jones insisted that Junior might have been visiting the dealership talking to one of his car salesmen, Cannon scoffed at that, saying, “Junior always hung out with the Jones boys (Clark and Charlie).”
Cannon and Roberts state flatly that Junior torched the Jones family’s car dealership. The fire erupted at 1 a.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 3, 1980, on Wayne Road, an extension of Savannah’s main drag.
Two days before the fire, a state auditor, Mary Towater, arrived in Savannah for a scheduled appointment to examine the Jones Motor Company’s books.
Towater’s car broke down, and she brought it to another Savannah dealer to be repaired. While she was waiting for her car to be repaired, Towater told this dealer that she was in town to determine if the Jones dealership routinely cheated the state on its taxes.
The dealership’s corrugated metal main building was gutted. The financial data sought by Towater was destroyed. State Fire Marshal Robert Frost said the blaze started with papers in the office.
“You could smell the heavy odor of gasoline in the drawers of a desk. Gasoline was dripping out on the floor,” Frost said, adding that there was no forced entry, meaning that it was an inside job.
There was only one suspect, Frost said: Junior Sweat.
Clark Jones told WND that the dealership wasn’t insured. However, James Beller of the Frank T. Bass Insurance Co. in Whiteville, Tenn., said his company paid the Jones family $100,000 for the building and $30,000 for the contents. Beller said he’s sure Junior burned the place down.
A state official, who was thoroughly familiar with Jones Motor Company’s financial standing at the time of the arson, said the dealership was worth considerably less than $130,000.
Jones didn’t dismiss the possibility that Junior was responsible for the fire when he spoke to WND. Janice Walker said Junior bragged to her on more than one occasion that he had torched the Jones dealership, and Cannon, the police chief, says he has absolutely no doubt that Junior was the arsonist.
Junior was never arrested for these arsons, but he was arrested for arson for hire in 1981, after his co-conspirator taped him and turned the incriminating tape over to State Fire Marshal James “Pa-Paw” Robertson. Junior served six years in prison on that charge.
In 1987, he was sentenced for 40 years (eventually serving 11) on a series of charges — arson for hire, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and possession of three ounces of cocaine.
A hulking man who stood six feet, three inches tall, Junior, a chronic alcoholic, became even nastier during the winter and spring months of 1999, a time when he was setting up a monster methamphetamine laboratory, Janice Walker said.
Walker is a teetotaler who regularly attends church, but by her own admission she could be one tough cookie when she was threatened. She says Junior repeatedly threatened to kill her or burn down her home if she deserted him. Junior said that in the event he got busted, he had previously arranged to have somebody kill her.
“I told Junior, ‘Smith & Wesson didn’t get rich by just making one gun,’” Walker said. “You’ve got a gun, and I’ve got a gun. If you try to kill me or try to burn down my house, I’ll blow your head off!”
During February, March and early April of 1999, then-Hardin County chief narcotics investigator Larry Phelps was developing information on Junior’s operation, but it would not be until June 10, 1999, three months after the TBI closed its Hardin County drug inquiry, that an informant, Bubba Harris, one of Junior Sweat’s associates, provided the Decatur County, Tenn., Sheriff’s Department and the federal Drug Enforcement Administration with the exact location of Junior’s meth lab in Decatur County.
Harris had been arrested on Dec. 16, 1998, when his meth lab in Hardin County was raided by Phelps and DEA agents. He is currently serving time in a federal penitentiary.
Affidavits and search warrants filed in U.S. District Court in Jackson show that Larry Joe had loaned Bubba up to an ounce of meth at a time to help alleviate some of Bubba’s money problems.
Junior’s lab was situated back in the woods, far away from the nearest road, because production of meth causes a distinct, easily traceable odor.
Sheriff’s deputies and DEA agents surrounded the lab, arresting Junior and his partner, Larry Joe Franks.
Janice Walker said her husband and Franks, who were both on parole at the time of the raid, planned to operate the drug factory just two months. They would net $20 million apiece and then retire.
Decatur County Sheriff’s Deputy Terry Tolley, a narcotics officer who participated in the raid, estimates that Junior’s meth had a street value of at least $40 million.
The raiders, who wore oxygen masks, respirators and body armor, were startled when they broke into the lab and discovered that it contained one thousand gallons of highly toxic anhydrous ammonia, which, according to one law enforcement source, “could have changed the course of the Tennessee River if it had ignited.” This highly volatile chemical and the other ingredients were worth at least $1 million, which led police to the conclusion that someone had fronted Junior and Larry Joe a lot of money to start his meth lab.
Nearly a year after the raid, the drug factory’s site is now an environmental nightmare, with blackened grass, blighted trees and a foul chemical odor clinging to the countryside.
After his arrest Junior Sweat was really worried, especially since he had a lengthy criminal history. He told his wife that he expected to be sentenced to life without parole.
Walker said Junior counted on Jones to bail him out after he was arrested, but that didn’t happen.
Junior also attempted to get help from Harmon. Harmon had previously represented Junior when the judge was in private practice, but Harmon didn’t do anything to help Junior either.
While Junior was in jail, said Walker, he asked her to contact LaFon, telling her that LaFon was the only one who could get him out of jail. The 81-year-old LaFon and uncle to Al Gore is a former prosecutor and state judge.
Janice Walker knew LaFon well, having once been offered a job as a housekeeper living in LaFon’s well-guarded, fortified compound. She rejected the job because of the isolation. She said Junior died before she had time to contact LaFon.
LaFon told WND he knew Junior and was familiar with the raid on his meth factory, but said no one had contacted him about representing Junior.
During the time that Junior Sweat was setting up his huge meth lab, the TBI brought in others for debriefing on the Jones/Harmon investigation. Randy Isbell received a call from John Mehr asking him to attend a Jan. 12, 1999, meeting at the TBI’s Jackson office.
Like David and Jane Riddell, the Baptist minister was instructed not to tell anyone that he was talking to the agency. This gag order effectively isolated the Riddells and Isbell for about two months, because they couldn’t share their information.
Mehr, Hughes and the other agents who attended the meeting with the Riddells were also present for Isbell’s initial debriefing.
Isbell asked when the TBI expected to launch a full-scale investigation in Hardin County.
“It may be weeks, it may be months, but we are coming,” Mehr said.
The Baptist minister made two other trips to the TBI headquarters in Jackson, bringing documentation and escorting half a dozen informants.
These informants turned over lists of drug dealers from whom they regularly obtained their narcotics to the TBI. On one of these lists appeared the name of Charlie Jones, Clark’s brother and partner in their car dealership.
One informant worked for E&K Trucking Company, in which Ron Harmon has a major financial stake. This same informant brought a computer disk and a document containing particulars about E&K’s alleged illegal activities.
According to Isbell, the disk contained information about E&K’s smuggling points, quantities of narcotics shipped, amounts of cash paid for the drugs and delivery dates.
Hughes loaded the disk in a computer and scrolled down the screen. The disk contained the equivalent of two typed pages. When the agent reached Judge Ron Harmon’s name, he paused. Mehr pointed at the name with a ballpoint pen and chortled, “Look here, Roger!”
“The TBI was intensely interested,” Isbell said.
During the TBI investigation, Isbell said he had regular telephone phone conversations with Mehr and Hughes. In addition, other TBI agents visited him at his church and home in Savannah.
Around this time, Ron Harmon called Randy Isbell at home and invited him to a meeting at his private law office. Isbell told WND that he was scared about going, but that he screwed up his courage and went anyway.
Arriving at Harmon’s back-alley office as the sun was setting, Isbell became even more apprehensive. The judge had instructed him to look for a green door and then knock. Isbell located a green door, but he paused before knocking. There was no name on the door, no sign indicating that this was Harmon’s law office.
Isbell finally rapped on the door, and Harmon let him in. A robust man in his early fifties, Harmon seemed as uncomfortable as his visitor. Both Harmon’s and Isbell’s accounts of the meeting are remarkably similar.
The judge professed his innocence, saying that he had never used nor dealt drugs. Isbell told Harmon that his involvement with E&K Trucking Company was incriminating.
Isbell told Harmon that defending notorious dopers and partying with cocaine users and dealers were among the reasons that he was now under suspicion. Harmon said he agreed with Isbell and promised to mend his ways.
Although the 35-minute-long meeting ended amicably, Isbell said, “I was really shook up when I left.”
And then something happened.
The first inkling that something was amiss came shortly after Isbell’s meeting with Ron Harmon. Several days later, Isbell said that he received a phone call at home from a TBI agent. Even though the caller didn’t identify himself, Isbell instantly knew who he was.
The caller, Chris Carpenter, had been assigned to the Hardin County drug case. Carpenter had once lived in Hardin County and attended Isbell’s church. He had also chatted with Isbell at his church several times during the investigation.
“There’s going to be a meeting in Memphis with a certain car dealer in your town. We’re going to be meeting next week. I just thought you ought to know,” Carpenter said, according to Isbell. He understood that Carpenter’s reference to “a certain car dealer in your town” meant Clark Jones.
WND attempted twice to ask Carpenter about this. Both times he said, “I’ve been instructed to refer your questions to Nashville for any comment or to answer any questions.” Then he slammed down the phone.
The TBI’s internal memoranda reveal that Carpenter was ordered not to talk to WorldNetDaily by TBI director Larry Wallace.
By mid-March of last year, Jane Riddell and Randy Isbell had decided to ignore the TBI’s prohibition about talking to each another and were actively comparing notes.
Isbell called Riddell and told her about his strange message from Carpenter. Ridell recalls the conversation:
“Is it good or bad?” Isbell asked.
“It has to be bad,” Riddell said, “He has pull all the way to the White House,” she replied.
While the TBI investigation was ongoing, Clark Jones attended a regular coffee klatch at the Tollhouse Restaurant with about 20 other Savannah movers and shakers. Savannah Mayor Bob Shutt, who was also at the Tollhouse that day, said the hot topic for conversation was drug trafficking in Hardin County.
“Every day the people at the restaurant were asking, ‘Who are the police going to catch?’ That’s all they talked about,” said Shutt.
A well-tanned man, Jones argued that drug trafficking in Savannah was negligible. Accounts of drug dealing published in the Courier were “blown way out of proportion,” he said.
Shutt, who is now running for the state senate against longtime Gore supporter Lt. Gov. John Wilder, said that Jones became agitated over what he heard from the other attendees and stated that he was driving to Memphis the next day “to straighten this s–t (the drug inquiry) out with the TBI.”
Shutt said he was initially skeptical of Jones’ statement.
“Even though he was friends with Al Gore, I doubted whether Clark had the clout to shut down an ongoing investigation, ” Shutt said. “But as events unfolded, I became absolutely convinced that Clark really did possess the clout.”
Shutt says Jones may have mentioned Gore’s name in connection with shutting down the TBI investigation.
“The only reason I’m not absolutely sure about Gore’s name being used is that Clark regularly threw Gore’s name around,” he said.
The TBI inquiry was dead in the water, TBI sources tell WorldNetDaily, on the personal instruction of Larry Wallace.
A politically ambitious former Tennessee Highway Patrolman and sheriff of McMinn County, Wallace often boasted about being a close friend of Gore. One high-ranking TBI official said, “Gore’s pictures are plastered on all of Wallace’s walls.” Former U.S. Sen. Harlan Matthews, a force in Tennessee Democratic Party politics for more than four decades, confirmed that Gore and Wallace were close friends and political allies.
Travel expense vouchers obtained by WorldNetDaily from the TBI show that Gary Azbill and Chris Carpenter, two of the agents working on the Hardin County drug case, were in Memphis on Friday, March 19, 1999, the date of the alleged meeting with Jones. Cathy Dent, another agent assigned to the case, arrived in Memphis the next day.
Wallace has ordered these agents not to talk to WND. Although Wallace furnished Azbill’s, Carpenter’s and Dent’s travel vouchers, he didn’t turn over any of Roger Hughes’ records for the same time period.
David Jennings, the TBI’s legal counsel, said Hughes didn’t submit any travel vouchers for March, April and May of last year.
Morris, a former senior TBI narcotics agent who is now chief of police in Lavergne, Tenn., said, “That tells me that somebody’s hiding something. It doesn’t happen that way. The TBI is using the color of their office to lie about the facts.”
WND made numerous attempts to talk to Roger Hughes. Although Hughes wouldn’t respond to repeated inquiries, he wrote a memo last March to Larry Wallace, denying that he had ever met with Jones.
“I don’t know Roger Hughes,” Jones said, adding that, “you don’t mess with criminal matters.”
Not long after the alleged meeting in Memphis, Riddell said she called the Jackson TBI office to pass on some information she had received relative to a large drug shipment coming into the Hardin County area.
Hughes told her that he wasn’t interested in her information about the trucks, startling her by saying that the drug investigation in Hardin County was dead.
In response to killing the investigation, two senior law enforcement sources told WND, “That’s politics, pure and simple.” They blamed Al Gore for having the investigation killed.
Lawson believes Wallace would never have terminated a criminal investigation involving three of Gore’s close friends and fundraisers without tipping the vice president off in advance.
Lawson was Wallace’s boss when Wallace was a colonel in command of the Tennessee Highway Patrol from 1987-1992. Lawson said he nearly fired Wallace for leaking sensitive investigative material to cabinet officers who had been subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury. Some of these men managed to escape prosecution and later supported Wallace in his successful 1992 bid to become TBI director.
According to Lawson and others, Wallace’s principal conduit to Gore is Alberta Winkler, an aide in Gore’s Carthage, Tenn., office. Winkler refused to talk to WND about Gore’s relationship with Wallace. She also refused to answer questions concerning whether Gore and Wallace conferred about the Hardin County drug case or about other TBI ongoing criminal cases.
“During his entire career, Wallace has exhibited a terror about offending politicians,” Lawson said.
Arzo Carson agrees with Lawson’s assessment of Wallace. Carson, a hard-nosed former prosecutor from eastern Tennessee, was TBI director for 11 years. He wrote the 1980 statute that supposedly insulated the TBI from political interference by the governor or other politicians.
Also like Lawson, Carson wanted to fire Wallace in 1987 as head of the TBI’s criminal investigation division, because in Carson’s opinion Wallace lacked integrity.
“Wallace would do anything to keep politicians happy, including killing investigations and leaking sensitive investigative material and sources,” Carson said.
After being informed by Hughes that the TBI had bailed out of the Hardin County drug investigation, Riddell didn’t waste any time calling Shutt. The mayor told her what Jones had said about killing TBI investigation.
Community leaders were dumbfounded when they learned that the TBI investigation was dead.
Two law enforcement sources told WorldNetDaily that FBI special agents mentioned Judge Ron Harmon and Whit LaFon as targets of a federal public corruption probe during a planning session. Harmon had been a potential target on several law enforcement officers’ radar screens for nearly 20 years. His name was first brought up by an informant working for Larry Phelps, who was at that time a narcotics officer for the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department in Memphis.
The Memphis drug dealer owned a luxurious home near Pickwick Lake and said he had shared cocaine with Harmon on a Pickwick boat dock.
Phelps had a colleague run a check on Harmon on EPIC, a federal computerized data network which keeps track of illegal drug activity, and discovered that Harmon was listed as a “suspected drug dealer.” Very recently, a check of that same data network revealed that Harmon is still on the radar screens as a suspected narcotics trafficker.
Don Cannon and other local police and federal sources say Harmon was also a suspect in the TBI investigation of Sheriff David Seaton, conducted during Carson’s tenure. Harmon was never charged with any crime in that case, and he repeatedly claimed he has never used nor sold drugs.
Harmon talked to WND in his private legal office about a block from the Hardin County Court House.
Harmon said he wasn’t sure about whether Clark Jones actually met with the TBI in Memphis. But if it did happen, he said, “It’s dumb.”
Asked about Whit LaFon, Harmon answered, “He talks too much all the time. He’s someone who might make a call (to halt the TBI investigation).”
When asked about the FBI investigation, the color drained from his face. After regaining control, he asked what allegations were being investigated. He was told that obstruction of justice, narcotics trafficking and conspiracy were being discussed.
“What the hell would we [Harmon and Clark Jones] have to conspire about?” he asked.
Clark Jones was interviewed at his Savannah auto dealership. Jones, who met Gore when he first ran for Congress, couldn’t fully explain why he allowed Junior Sweat to hang around his showroom four days a week.
“Junior visited Gary Wilson (a Jones Motor Company salesman),” he said.
He tried to downplay his involvement with Al Gore, claiming that he only talked to Gore once a year. However, Gore recently purchased a car from Jones for his son, Albert Gore, III, and Gore was expected to attend the wedding of Chad Jones, Clark’s son, this summer, but he cancelled at the last minute reportedly due to heavy scheduling demands.
The 24th Judicial District Task Force, a multi-county narcotics unit, conducted a round-up this past May — the culmination of a year’s undercover work done by task-force members, the Savannah Police Department and agents from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Affairs Office of Inspector General.
Some of the investigation took place in public housing projects, and HUD furnished thousands of dollars of “buy money.” Task-force members say a number of the suspects have been turned for use as informants.
HUD’s anti-drug program was strongly endorsed by the vice president when it was first introduced in 1997, two years before Gore allegedly played a role in terminating the TBI’s drug investigation in Hardin County.
Gore and HUD cited Savannah and Hardin County as “success stories,” based solely on a May 20, 1997, round-up of 37 individuals for using and selling crack cocaine and marijuana in and around public housing developments.
A number of these individuals were perennial addicts who sold only miniscule amounts of drugs to support their habits. They were charged with simple possession of a controlled substance and released on their own recognizance.
Despite Gore’s declaration that Savannah and Hardin County were “success stories” in the war on drugs, numerous local and federal anti-drug sources say the situation in Savannah and Hardin County has dramatically worsened, and that the county’s cries for relief have fallen on the deaf ears of Al’s pals.
So, what happened in Hardin County? A fair reading of the facts reveals this: A serious inquiry into narcotics trafficking was begun by Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director Larry Wallace after a request from a powerful state politician. TBI agents collected information and evidence, interviewed subjects and solicited assistance from local citizens. Then, apparently after a clandestine meeting with one of Al Gore’s pals and top fundraisers — an individual with strong connections to a career criminal even then under investigation for constructing the largest meth lab in the state — that drug trafficking inquiry stopped cold.
“Clark Jones did me in. I’ll never forgive him and Al Gore for that,” Jane Riddell said, and then she began to cry.
MEMPHIS, Tenn. – An 8-year-old, $165 million defamation case against WND springing from a series of stories about then-presidential candidate Al Gore has been settled.
The terms of the out-of-court agreement with auto dealer Clark Jones are confidential. The settlement averts the need for a trial in Tennessee that was scheduled for next month.
Below is the text of the settlement statement jointly drafted by all parties in the lawsuit. Both sides agreed to limit comment on the lawsuit to this statement:
“A lawsuit for libel, defamation, false light and conspiracy was filed by Clark Jones of Savannah, Tennessee against WorldNetDaily.com, Tony Hays and Charles H. Thompson II arising out of a press release issued by WorldNetDaily.com on September 18, 2000, and articles dated September 20, October 8, November 24 and December 5, 2000, written by Tony Hays and Charles H. Thompson, II, posted on WorldNetDaily.com’s website.
“The original news release by WorldNetDaily.com of September 18, 2000, and the article by Hays and Thompson of September 20, 2000, contained statements attributed to named sources, which statements cast Clark Jones in a light which, if untrue, defamed him by asserting that the named persons said that he had interfered with a criminal investigation, had been a ‘subject’ of a criminal investigation, was listed on law enforcement computers as a ‘dope dealer,’ and implied that he had ties to others involved in alleged criminal activity. These statements were repeated in the subsequently written articles and funds solicitations posted on WorldNetDaily.com’s website. Clark Jones emphatically denied the truth of these statements, denied any criminal activity and called upon the publisher and authors to retract them.
“Discovery has revealed to WorldNetDaily.com that no witness verifies the truth of what the witnesses are reported by authors to have stated. Additionally, no document has been discovered that provides any verification that the statements written were true.
“Factual discovery in the litigation and response from Freedom of Information Act requests to law enforcement agencies confirm Clark Jones’ assertion that his name has never been on law enforcement computers, that he has not been the subject of any criminal investigation nor has he interfered with any investigation as stated in the articles. Discovery has also revealed that the sources named in the publications have stated under oath that statements attributed to them in the articles were either not made by them, were misquoted by the authors, were misconstrued, or the statements were taken out of context.
“WorldNetDaily.com and its editors never intended any harm to Clark Jones and regret whatever harm occurred. WorldNetDaily.com has no verified information by which to question Mr. Jones’ honesty and integrity, and having met him, has no claim or reason to question his honesty and integrity. WorldNetDaily.com wishes him well.”